For the week of March 17, 1999  thru March 23, 1999  

Walt Sinclair goes straight for the heart

Local heads fight against No. 1 killer


By HANS IBOLD
Express Staff Writer

m17sinclair.jpg (10938 bytes)Walt Sinclair

American’s No. 1 killer, heart disease, has a serious foe in south-central Idaho.

Walt Sinclair, an attorney living and practicing in Twin Falls, has had a side-job fighting heart disease and stroke for some 15 years.

In June, Sinclair will assume the chair of the American Heart Association and will head the 4.2-million member national association into the new millennium.

If he has a weekend free—a rarity—Sinclair and his wife Jeannie vacate to their home in Ketchum.

But catch him in Ketchum, and you will find a man hardly in retreat.

Saturday morning found Sinclair donned in an American Heart Association fleece and eager to talk about the mission of the association.

America’s current No. 1 killer, if Sinclair has his way, won’t be America’s No. 1 killer in the next millennium.

Fighting heart disease, however, is not a job per se to Sinclair. It’s a passion.

In 1984, Sinclair’s father died of a heart attack. Two months later, Sinclair’s father-in-law also died of a heart attack.

When a friend at that time invited him to join the board of directors of the Idaho affiliate of the Heart Association, Sinclair jumped aboard. He hasn’t stopped fighting since.

And he fights for free.

Sinclair does not receive a salary for his time, which will amount to about two weeks each month.

"If it became a paid position, it would change the whole focus," Sinclair said. "We do it now because we believe in the mission. That’s what amazed me about the AHA when I first got involved. It’s a volunteer-driven organization."

Sinclair--who said he and Jeannie are two of the few people who have grown up in Twin and still live there--served on the Idaho board of directors for six years before becoming regional vice president of the association’s Northwest Rocky Mountain Region.

"Our primary focus locally is getting programs started that get information out to the people in Idaho," Sinclair said. "There is also a surprisingly large amount of heart disease research going on in Idaho, which not many people realize."

With a legal practice that has focused him on business litigation, Sinclair brought valuable expertise to the local Heart Association affiliates.

At the national level, Sinclair used his business acumen to assist with a massive restructuring that consolidated the organization.

"We merged all AHA affiliates that used to be separate corporations—there were 56—into a single, national corporation," Sinclair said.

Completed in July, the restructuring has made the association more efficient and effective, Sinclair said.

The association funds research, provides educational and community programs, increases public awareness about cardiovascular disease and stroke, raises funds to continue these efforts, and ultimately reduces death and disability from heart attack and stroke, according to Sinclair.

"We have a goal of reducing cardiac deaths and stroke by 25 percent by the year 2006," Sinclair said.

Toward that goal, the Heart Association is currently investigating ways of inducing behavioral changes in at-risk individuals.

The association is funding more behavioral research, a facet of research that has been overlooked historically, according to Sinclair.

"We know that most people know about the risks of heart disease, but we want them to be able to apply the knowledge to themselves. Behavioral research can help with that," Sinclair said.

On a personal level, Sinclair, who is himself at risk because of his family history, said he monitors his cholesterol at least once a year and has changed his lifestyle.

"I do a lot of things my family did not do historically. I exercise a lot. I took up marathon running," Sinclair said.

The association’s encyclopedic and interactive Web site (www.americanheart.org) can help facilitate such lifestyle changes, according to Sinclair.

"The Web site has been phenomenally successful," Sinclair said. "It’s the kind of program we feel can be powerful and affect behaviors."

In addition to finding reference material, visitors to the site can take a confidential and easy heart attack and stroke risk assessment test.

The site also offers guides to nutrition and exercise that are crucial for individuals at risk for heart disease.

One of Sinclair’s mission will be to take that message about nutrition and exercise and present it to the public from a coalition of health organizations.

"It’s something we’re going to try to partner together, to put out a common thread from all the associations," Sinclair said. "We’re already doing a lot of partnering, especially with regard to tobacco."

How does the south-central Idaho resident find time for the national fight?

"You end up putting in a few more hours and you end up losing a lot of personal time," Sinclair said. "My wife has been very supportive, and I thank goodness because it does take away from our personal time. I couldn’t do this without her support."

 

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