Vet hopes to help oth­ers quit smok­ing

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - Tulsa World michael.over­all@tul­ BY MICHAEL OVER­ALL

TULSA — When they put him on a heart trans­plant list, doc­tors gave Brian Hay­den a pager that would let him know to come straight to a hospi­tal as soon as an or­gan be­came avail­able. But he kept the pager less than 24 hours.

Doc­tors took it back af­ter they found nico­tine in a blood sam­ple.

“I was go­ing to die with­out a trans­plant,” Hay­den says. “And I still couldn’t quit smok­ing. I was that ad­dicted.”

He started when he was just 6 years old, sneak­ing cig­a­rettes from his par­ents, who were such chain smok­ers them­selves that they didn’t no­tice the smell on a lit­tle boy’s cloth­ing. By mid­dle school, he was smok­ing a pack a day and couldn’t hide the habit any­more.

“My par­ents didn’t like it,” he says, “but in the mid ‘60s, it wasn’t such a big deal. Smok­ing was nor­mal.”

An Air Force career made smok­ing seem even more nat­u­ral, with mil­i­tary per­son­nel far more likely to smoke than civil­ians.

In 1989, He suf­fered his first heart at­tack as a 35-year-old mas­ter sergeant, and the Air Force gave him a medical dis­charge in 1990. But he kept smok­ing.

He spent the next 15 years in and out of hos­pi­tals with wors­en­ing heart fail­ure. And by 2005, he was com­pletely un­able to work. But he kept smok­ing.

Af­ter be­ing taken off the trans­plant list in 2007, he spent three weeks in hospice, lit­er­ally wait­ing to die.

But still, he kept smok­ing.

“A year passed and I was still alive,” Hay­den says. “I thought, ‘If I am not go­ing to die, I bet­ter give my­self a chance to live.’ So I quit smok­ing — for good.”

But it wasn’t easy. Hay­den com­pleted ces­sa­tion classes, took med­i­ca­tions and learned deep-breath­ing tech­niques to fight off crav­ings.

“I made a com­mit­ment,” he says. “’And to quit, that’s what you have to do. Com­mit.”

Now in his 60s and liv­ing in sub­ur­ban San An­to­nio, Texas, Hay­den is star­ing in an an­ti­smok­ing TV ad that will ap­pear na­tion­ally through Oc­to­ber. He ap­peared in Tulsa on Tues­day as part of a public­ity tour that’s fo­cus­ing es­pe­cially on vet­er­ans and mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

In Oklahoma, roughly 1 out of 5 adults smoke, but the num­ber jumps to nearly 1 out of 3 among peo­ple with mil­i­tary back­grounds, ac­cord­ing to the na­tional Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

“It’s es­pe­cially dam­ag­ing for ac­tive-duty mil­i­tary,” said Bruce Dart, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Tulsa Health Depart­ment, “as tobacco use hurts phys­i­cal fit­ness and en­durance.”

Smok­ing rates have fallen sharply in Oklahoma in re­cent years as fewer young peo­ple take up the habit. As re­cently as 2005, Oklahoma had one of the high­est teen smok­ing rates in the coun­try, with nearly 1 out of 3 high school stu­dents us­ing cig­a­rettes. But by 2015, the most re­cent year with avail­able data, the high school smok­ing rate had dropped to only 13 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent State of the State’s Health Re­port.

Hay­den, who fi­nally re­ceived a heart trans­plant in 2012, is happy to re­port that none of his chil­dren or grand­chil­dren smoke, break­ing the gen­er­a­tional cy­cle that got him hooked.

“They saw grandpa in the hospi­tal too of­ten,” he says, “and didn’t want any­thing to do with it.”

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