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Heart Awareness Month: DPS Trooper shares heart disease story

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Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) State Trooper Stephen Ricci says it takes determination and heart to serve as a first responder.  

He says if he had not listened to his heart years ago, his life would be very different.

"If it wasn't for my wife-- she insisted that I go and see a doctor," Ricci said. "I don't know if I'd be here right now."

Ricci says doctors told him he was very close to having a major stroke or heart attack.

In 2009, Ricci became severely sick, and at the time, doctors believed he may have had the swine flu, but he was never diagnosed. 

READ ALSO: Heart Awareness Month: Valley woman shares family history of heart disease

Eventually, Ricci began working out again — and that's when he noticed something didn't feel right. 

"I always exercise, always," Ricci said. "I developed an intolerance. I couldn't jog a quarter of a mile without being completely exhausted."

Soon, other symptoms, like coughing and wheezing, surfaced. After seeing a doctor, Ricci learned his discomfort was linked to several serious cardiovascular illnesses. 

"They diagnosed me with cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, two leaking valves and atrial fibrillation," Ricci said. 

"Cardiovascular disease is a prominent factor, not only to the general public, but also among the law enforcement population," DPS State Trooper Christopher Olivares said. "It's the number three cause of duty death for law enforcement and the number one cause of death for the general population."

As a result of Ricci's situation, DPS created a fitness and wellness program to help other troopers.

Olivares says they "provide education, resources and support to those who are trying to maintain or initiate some type of fitness regimen or nutrition program."

Today, Ricci is no longer on medication but he continues to encourage others to listen to their hearts, too. 

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