LEWISTON — Natalie McCarthy is giving up her shovel.

The 84-year-old retired insurance worker likes to keep her walks and pathways clear of snow, and she recently did some shoveling. But later that night, her hands went numb.

“It frightened me,” she said.

She went to Central Maine Medical Center.

“They rushed me in, did an EKG, blood tests,” she said.

Eventually, she was told she was fine. She had not suffered a stroke or heart attack. But she was cautioned against shoveling.

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In Maine and Boston, people have died in recent weeks from shoveling or removing snow.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Central Maine Heart and Vascular Institute in Lewiston reported this week that there were no recent deaths from shoveling or snow removal, but some people had come in with symptoms.

“You can’t live in a place like Maine and say, ‘Don’t shovel,’” said cardiologist Andrew Eisenhauer, medical director of Central Maine Heart and Vascular Institute.

But those who shovel should also regularly exercise and not have underlying health issues.

Age plays a factor. The elderly are more likely to have heart disease and other problems, especially if they’ve been away from exercise, he said. This doesn’t mean that older people can’t do any shoveling, Eisenhauer said. But they have to pay attention to how they feel and report any changes, as McCarthy did.

Anyone who is shoveling must use common sense, he said.

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“Take frequent breaks; stay warm,” Eisenhauer said. “And if you feel bad, your body is telling you something and you need to stop and tell someone. Especially if you get the classic signs of a heart attack.” Those signs include chest tightness, breathlessness and lightheadedness.

“Don’t try to power through it and finish your driveway,” he said.

Shoveling, especially when the snow is wet and heavy, involves conditions that put some at risk.

If someone’s rushing to shovel the entire driveway to get to work, they’re under stress. They’re in the cold, which means their bodies have to work harder to stay warm, Eisenhauer said.

He recommends that everyone adopt a year-round exercise program.

“It’s good for everything: overall fitness, a sense of well-being and cardiovascular health,” he said. “Then when the time comes you have to do something, your body’s able to do it.”

The habitual exerciser is not the one at risk shoveling, Eisenhauer said. “The couch potato who’s forced to exercise is.”


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