Merle Ecklund’s father had heart problems and died, in 1979, of a sudden heart attack at age 66. Merle knew he had to work especially hard at keeping his heart healthy.
The lifelong farmer started getting regular checkups and took drugs to lower his high cholesterol. He also became a regular customer at Marion Wellness Center and walked 3 miles a day on the treadmill.
The drugs worked, and he felt fine. But after he turned 66, doctors discovered he had three plugged arteries. They said he had a “silent killer” that could have led to his dropping dead in an instant, like his father.
Not too many months before the discovery, Ecklund and his wife divorced. He said the stress may have contributed to his condition.
Ecklund had surgery in July 2008 at the age of 66, the same age at which his father died. He spent two days in intensive care, five days in a regular room, and almost six months in rehabilitation.
He was required to spend several sessions with a stress counselor. After he returned to his rural Lost Springs home, he had to prove that he could take care of himself. He said son Randy stayed with him for two days, after which he was fine on his own.
Following his doctor’s recommendation, Ecklund returned to Marion Wellness Center to do exercises to strengthen his chest muscles. He works out three times a week for 45 minutes. He lifts weights at five stations that target specific areas of the upper body. He also walks a half-mile on the treadmill.
He said he works at lifting for endurance rather than for maximum weight.
After his workout at Marion Wellness, he also goes to the USD 408 Sports and Aquatic Center and swims a backstroke for a half-mile.
His doctor says he’s good for another 15 or 20 years. He needs knee surgery but his doctor is putting it off as long as possible because of the threat of blood clots in his bypasses. He takes shots for knee pain every three months.
Ecklund doesn’t believe in sitting around and feeling sorry for himself. He and a girlfriend, Debra Harrington of Hope, are into country western music and karaoke. They often go to concerts together.
The duo have performed at senior centers in Herington and Marion and at Emma Chase Café in Cottonwood Falls. Ecklund accompanies Harrington on the accordion.
Ecklund has two sons and two daughters. His son Randy has taken over most of their large farming operation. The other children are engineers. One of his daughters is a marathon runner. Ecklund also has eight grandchildren.
He has a hobby of collecting Native American artifacts and fossils.
Ecklund said it is important to keep a positive attitude.
“Whatever you do, don’t sit at home and stare at four gray walls,” he advises senior citizens. “Get out and about and go with the flow. It will turn your life around.”