KIRKWOOD, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- More than six million Americans live with heart failure.
While it is a serious condition, it's still possible to have a good quality of life, through education and compliance.
Nothing stops George Parry these days.
"I walk anywhere from 2 to 4 miles a day...non-stop," notes George.
Quite the change from barely two years ago.
"I could only walk like a block and I'd be totally out of breath. I'd have to stop, regroup, and then start again," he says
The retired home builder thought he had a lung problem.
But after a contact at Temple Health referred him to cardiologist Dr. Emad Hamad, George learned it was heart failure.
Dr. Hamad says heart failure occurs when the heart can't pump blood with enough force, or when it can't relax enough to fill with blood between heartbeats.
Heart attacks and heart disease are a prime cause.
"High blood pressure is another. Other reasons are things like diabetes and obesity. Patients who are on chemotherapy," says Dr. Hamad.
Heavy alcohol use and pregnancy are also triggers.
When blood and fluid back up, that's when Dr. Hamad says "they become congestive."
George was hospitalized to get rid of excess fluid.
"I lost about 20 pounds in 4 days," he says.
Nurses like Adelie Hagy teach patients like George how to manage heart failure day-to-day.
"Compliance is key. Compliance with your medication, compliance with your diet, your daily weights," says Hagy.
Food is a special focus.
Patients learn to read labels, and to identify high-sodium foods.
She says even salt substitutes may still have sodium.
She also red-flags restaurant dishes with sauce.
"You know, pretty much all of anything saucy has a lot of sodium," Hagy says.
Hagy and Dr. Hamad say patients may face big changes, but there's a big team to see them through.
"The best thing to do is stay positive, and remind them this is a condition that can be managed," Hagy says.
Thanks to medication and his new lifestyle, George's heart is now in the normal pumping range.
And he's so grateful, he's helping fund Temple's cardiac research.