ONLY ON: No. 1 killer for men and women

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It's the number one killer in the United States and the numbers continue to rise. Now, one local hospital is leading the nation by focusing on treatment and prevention.

Now that we're are in a new year, it's a fresh start for lots of us. Many people are trying to get back to a healthy diet and lifestyle. But, for those ignoring the warning signs it could be deadly.

Rick Nuttal, 65, has lived in Tucson for most of his life. He's stayed out of the hospital for most of it, but last August was a different story. "I was not the poster boy for healthy living," he said.

His main vice was fatty foods, lack of exercise, and a big salt intake. After years of bad habits he noticed changes in his body.

"If I bent over to tie my shoes it was hard to catch a breath. If I walked to the mailbox to get the mail I would be tired at the end of it," he said.

Nuttal says he didn't think anything of it until the unexpected happened. "I gained within just a matter of days over 30 pound."

He compared himself to Michelin Man. His whole body swelled up, from his ankles up to his face. His wife rushed him to the  Tucson Medical Center. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

"They diagnosed me and said well we will get rid of the fluid.  I said if I need this operation I'll come back in 6 months and they said no you're going to get that surgery once the fluid levels are down," he said.

Doctors told him his heart was not supplying his body with enough blood, causing him to retain water and gain weight. 30 pounds in 2 days! He underwent life saving heart surgery.

Dr. Greg Pennock is a cardiologist for Tucson Medical Center. It's the first hospital in Southern Arizona to receive congestive heart failure accreditation from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care.

"It shows what a model of physicians working with the hospital can do working for patients.  This isn't a model that's practiced everywhere in the city or everywhere in the country," he said.

Dr. Pennock says heart failure is the number one diagnosis for men and women. In fact, nearly 6 million Americans have the condition. Making heart failure the leading cause of death in this country.

"The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, and some people get a weight gain and swelling in the extremities," he said.

But, it's not just about treating the critical patient, it's about prevention. "So, making sure that patients blood pressure is well treated, making sure that their diabetes is treated that their cholesterol is treated that they are not overweight, that they are eating appropriately," he said.

As for Rick, doctors say he'll be on medication for the rest of his life, but he knows he's one of the lucky ones.

"If my wife and her girlfriend hadn't thrown me in the back seat, wouldn't take no for an answer, I'm sure I wouldn't be here. It was that close. Haha," he said.

Currently heart failure has no cure. However treatments such as medicines and lifestyle changes can help people who have the condition live longer and more active lives.

If you are experiencing symptoms, its best to get a checkup from your doctor.

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