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Why The Flu Can Be Bad For Your Heart

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Spring may be around the corner, but we are still in the midst of flu season.  Each year doctors warn us all to get a flu shot to help keep us from getting the virus.  But, doctors also warn the flu virus can also cause other health problems, like heart disease.  Specifically, congestive heart failure, which affects nearly six million Americans and has no cure.

Two years ago Alfino Donastorg spent several days with the flu, symptoms including aches, fatigue, and shortness of breath.  When he didn't eventually feel better, Alfino went to the emergency room.

That's when he learned his heart was weak and not pumping properly, fluid filling his body and lungs, stressing the heart.  Doctors shocked Alfino telling him he had congestive heart failure.

"Shock, tears came to my eyes because the first thing you think of is immortality," Alfino explained.  "Literally, I thought, 'am I gonna die?'  I thought is this a trap, death sentence. How much time do I have?"

After a few days in the hospital and some new medications to take each day, Alfino was still not well.  He had all the symptoms of congestive heart failure.

Alfino was short of breath, fatigued, coughing from fluid in the lungs, retaining fluid -- about 20 pounds of water weight, his heart function was very weak putting him at risk for sudden cardiac death.

He started seeing cardiologist and heart failure specialist Dr. Yordanka Reyna.

"Alfino is a special patient for me because he came very sick," said Dr. Reyna. "He presented in acute decompensated heart failure.  Very borderline to be in cardiogenic shock."

The then 37-year old was doing so poorly Dr. Reyna was already thinking ahead.

"You need to have a plan A and a plan B to then decide, 'is he gonna get better?' or is he not," she explained.  "So if he would've done poorly or worse, even when I was treating him, then he would've been a candidate to go on the transplant list."

Alfino got a defibrillator put in his chest to shock the heart in case he does go into sudden cardiac arrest.  He also takes a daily diuretic to get rid of extra fluid and he takes other medications like an ACE inhibitor and a beta blocker to keep his blood pressure in check and his heart pumping better.

"What I tell patients is that this is something you can manage if you take the right medicines, if you do the right things," says Dr. Reyna.  "You have to be so in tune with your body.  You have to know your body very well.  It's so important to go and be active.  It will be beneficial to help you live longer and healthier with congestive heart failure."

Two years later, Alfino still has a damaged heart.  But he follows the doctor's advice and he is feeling much better. He's also grateful to have just turned 40.

"I'm extremely happy right now because I know what I have. I know for a fact that I am in good hands and I'm going in the right direction.  That I know 100%, total fact."

Alfino is feeling so much better, he's even set a new goal:  going to Japan to climb Mount Fuji.

Dr. Reyna reminds everyone to listen to your body.  If you don't feel well, especially after more than a day, call your doctor or go to the E.R.

By Donna Rapado

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