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Pat Quinn Speaks with Pension Plan Puppets - Part 1

Nervy Beginnings

The start of the interview was inauspicious as some static required a repetition of my introduction as I started to wonder if I had transcribed the number I had been given incorrectly. Finally, my bonafides were established, pleasantries were exchanged, and I asked for some patience since this was my first real interview. He tried to set me at ease by firing the first question:

PQ: So my notes tell me that you are a blogger?

PPP: Um, yeah. I run a Leafs fan site called Pension Plan Puppets with a community of about 160 members that follow the team with devotion and a touch of humour.

PQ: So how did you choose the name Pension Plan?

PPP: (Now I was worried that he thought I was some sort of crank) Well, it came out of a conspiracy theory that a friend and I joked about during the Oilers' run to the Stanley Cup Final. Seeing another Canadian team's run to the Final being beset by riots we joked that the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan (and right about now I think Pat was seriously questioning the direction that this interview was taking) kept the Leafs good enough to keep the fans happy while not letting them get so good as to win the Stanley Cup. The reason being that they are worried that the celebration of a Leafs' Cup win could cause a lot of damage to their extensive property holdings in the city.

PQ: (Laughed, thank God) Ok, that's a pretty good name.

And with that, I launched into my prepared questions and tried to stop shaking.

PPP: Obviously, your heart trouble during the 2002 Eastern Conference Final was a harrowing experience. You had to make a lot of lifestyle changes including changing your diet, exercising, and cutting back on your cigars. During your work to improve your lifestyle, how did the partnership with Making The Connection come about?

PQ:  After the incident during the Eastern Conference Finals Quinn was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia. Along with making a lot of life changes including changes to his diet, an increase in exercise, and the end of his cigars Pat began to take medication for his high cholesterol.

As a former professional hockey player he thought that he could ignore a lot of the controllable issues that can lead to heart problems chiefly: diet and exercise. He readily admits that he was completely unaware of the effect that genetics could play in one's health. Later he found out that his high cholesterol was the culprit behind the irregular heartbeat. Coming from a man that had always been an athlete it was a shock to find out that he wasn't indestructible.

Pat's association with Making The Connection began in 2003 as a result of his research into his heart problems and referrals from his doctors that he might make an excellen spokesman for the organization. Pat noted that the organization is actually a coalition of a number of health advocacy groups that encourages Canadians to look at both the controllable (lifestyle) as well as uncontrollable (genetic) causes of heart diseases.

One of the group's latest initiatives, the main one that Pat wanted to emphasize, is the personalized plan that Making The Connection creates for you after you've provided some information about your health and family history. You can actually win an on-ice coaching session with Quinn just by registering. Pat noted that it's never too early to begin looking at this issue. He waited far too long out of simply being unaware of the risks but in five years he has made huge strides towards improving his heart health. There is a measure that calculates your heart's age and Pat noted with pride that while he is actually 65 years old his heart is only 59. He used that to emphasize that it's never too late to alter your path.

PPP: For many of us, cardiovascular disease seems like something that's way off in our future but at the same time it's something that's an obvious concern for our parents.   What advice would you give to concerned sons and daughters that would help in talking to their parents about this issue?

PQ: "This is not just an older person's issue." And with that Pat hit on the notion that heart problems do not discriminate based on age. As he noted earlier, some of the risk factors are genetic and for all one's belief that they are indestructible you could be blindly headed towards some serious trouble. Pat told a story of visiting his mother in the hospital in Hamilton when, once word got out of his presence, he met seven patients that had had minor heart problems. Their age range? Late 20s to mid 30s. All had been shovelling snow when problems arose.

In terms of broaching the subject with loved ones Pat noted that a good way of making the case for action was to frame it as something that they can do to ensure that they will be with you as long as possible. Ensure that they know that you will wok with them to develop a plan because you care about them. Using public figures such as himself are a good way of demonstrating how a concerted effort can have a big change on one's situation. Aside from developing a plan similar to the one that Making The Connection provides Pat mentioned that while it's important for your older loved ones to be faithful to the plan it's also incumbent on you to follow up, pester, and re-focus them as much as is needed.

Pat noted that often people mentally shut off when they reach and older age because they are on oxygen or confined to beds or just aren't able to be as active as they had previously been because of health problems. Focusing on improving your heart health is a good way to build towards being able to enjoy your later years rather than simply winding them down.