Ind. firefighters, police receive cardiac, metabolic testing
Through a Dukes Healthcare Foundation grant, leaders brought Sigma Tactical Wellness representatives to Peru
PERU, Ind. — Several officials of the Peru Police Department and the Peru Fire Department participated in some extensive exercises at PFD Station 1 earlier this week.
And while there were no mock water rescues or SWAT scenarios, the exercises were aimed at saving lives.
According to information provided by the national organization Sigma Tactical Wellness — which puts an emphasis on advanced cardiac and metabolic testing for public safety officials — a law enforcement officer's average life expectancy is 22 years less than that of a civilian.
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But it's not the actual emergency situation that's killing first responders at such high rates, Sigma's CEO Dr. Ben Stone said.
It's soft coronary plaque, which can lead to cardiovascular disease.
"Cardiac disease and first response public safety is just borderline epidemic," Stone told the Tribune. "We're starting to see 20-somethings and early-30-somethings develop soft coronary plaque, which is just not something you see in civilian occupations. And unfortunately, because the individuals are so young, a lot of them don't qualify for the advanced cardiac diagnostics that you need in order to identify soft plaque in the early stages of development."
Back in early 2020, PPD's Asst. Chief Matt Feller reached out to Sigma Tactical Wellness after hearing about the program on a podcast.
"So, I started researching them a little bit," he said. "Here at Peru PD, we're very conscious about the health of our officers, and so we had just completed renovating our fitness facility and were looking for ways, not only to keep our officers healthy but looking for ways that we could point out how useful the facility would be to them."
That all ultimately led to a Dukes Healthcare Foundation grant, which eventually helped bring officials with Sigma Tactical Wellness to Peru.
Usually, the type of testing conducted on Peru's first responders takes place in a hospital setting, Stone said, costing the patient a considerable amount of money.
But this week's testing at PFD Station 1 was completely free of charge.
Along with the actual cardiac and metabolic testing, the first responders were also able to have individual consultations with an exercise physiologist and somebody in the cardiology field, Feller noted, so that they could formulate a plan and pathway to accomplish their health goals.
"We've had really good buy-in from our officers and our firefighters," he said. "We're pleased with the outcome so far. We wanted to eliminate virtually any barrier that would stand between our firefighters and police officers taking advantage of this care, and that's why this grant was so important for us to get."
But why are first responders so susceptible to cardiovascular disease in the first place?
It's really a combination of factors, Stone noted.
"It's sleep deprivation, interrupted sleep and PTSD driven or stress injury driven in some cases," he said. "But it's also bad diets, especially high in fructose, and it's extremely high occupational and administrative stress. It's substance abuse, alcohol, tobacco and even stimulus. We have these young individuals drinking three or four Monsters or Rock Stars over the course of a night shift, and that's causing significant elevated levels of blood pressure, significant elevated heart rates and even having an impact on adrenal fatigue.
"We're looking at all the vessels that feed the heart," Stone added. "What can happen, when these guys and girls are under tremendous strain and stress, they get this massive adrenaline dump. The blood pressure goes up, the heart rate elevates. And what can happen is that it can actually stress and strain that soft plaque, and the plaque can rupture. That can eventually lead to a heart attack."
So, the key is discovering that soft plaque build-up early on, Stone noted, which is why the testing is so valuable.
"This is probably the most comprehensive lab you're going to get unless you're in a hospital, and we're looking for something," he said. "If we can do things that impact longevity and improve qualify of life now, it's game-changing for their (first responders) future."
PPD and PFD were the first departments in the state of Indiana to have this type of advanced testing through Sigma Tactical Wellness, but Feller and Stone both said they hope other departments will reach out and do the same.
"We're very proud to be on the cutting edge of all of this here in Indiana," Feller said. "There is a huge push in public safety right now toward total wellness, so we view this as an investment. We want our employees to know that they have value, and this is one of the many ways to show them that."
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