Chief recalls near-death experience

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Chief Master Sgt. Richard Lien takes health seriously.

The 48-year-old base fire chief follows a concrete exercise plan 7-days a week and watches his nutrition plan closely.

Regardless of the weather outside or his busy schedule, he makes the time to pass an Air Force physical fitness test every day.

A PT test a day, followed by a brisk 2.5-mile walk, seven days a week. After all, the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron fire chief has to set the example for his firefighters at all times.

The tall, trim, athletic chief never thought he would have health problems.

But, when he was running outside on a sunny-spring day last April he felt a cool sensation in his chest. He dismissed the symptoms as acid reflux or possibly a respiratory cold.

The symptoms lasted for a few weeks before his wife urged him to visit the medical clinic.

"Over the course of three weeks, the symptoms seemed to get better," said Lien. "Thankfully my wife pestered me enough to go see the doctor."

His primary care provider immediately knew that something was not right and referred Lien to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

The cardiologist realized that the issue was much worse than what the chief assumed the symptoms were.

Lien agreed to an angioplasty, a procedure which allows the cardiologist to see inside the patient's arteries.

The findings of the procedure were shocking for the chief. His right coronary artery suffered from 100-percent blockage.

The doctor used a balloon catheter to remove the blockage and placed a 38-millimeter stent in the blocked artery to keep the vessel open.

Lien's story is similar to many others across America. Heart disease is responsible for 25-percent of all deaths in the United States It is the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to a recent study by the American Heart Association.

February is American Heart Month, and Americans are urged to take responsibility for their cardiovascular health and adopt healthy lifestyles to promote healthy hearts.

According to the American Heart Association, while cutting out factors like excessively fatty foods, alcohol and smoking reduces the risk, there is still a threat. The root of the problem reaches beyond politics, demographics, and religious identity; heart disease knows no boundaries when it comes to race, gender, age and genetics.

For Lien's case, he did everything right.

The doctor explained to the chief that there were probably family indicators that he didn't see because they were masked by his family's poor lifestyle choices.

"I was probably genetically predisposed to have this problem, and I just didn't see the indicators," said the fire chief.

Fortunately for Lien, his healthy habits prepared him for a speedy recovery. He was back to his daily fitness test only a week later. The scenario could have played out differently if he wasn't already passionate about taking care of himself.

"If it can happen to someone who doesn't have indicators, it can happen to anybody," he said. "People need to listen to their bodies and keep in mind that they could live a healthy lifestyle and still be at risk."