All Heart: A WWII veteran fights his latest battle

(Left to right) V.J. Robinson, 92, and Butch Tindell, 68, exercise to keep their hearts healthy. (Photo by Sarah Raines, SDN)
Staff Writer

Victor "V.J." Robinson, flew P-51 fighter jets in World War II and was awarded many honors in the service, but his latest fight has been a true test of the heart — the battle of regaining his health after a major heart attack.

Robinson, 92, flew over cities like Berlin, Dresden, and Munich. Upon returning home, he attended Mississippi State University, graduated in 1949, and became an instructor pilot for the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War period.

"I received an Air Medal, a couple of Oak Leaf Clusters, and a Unit Citation of the group, which was a Presidential Citation — but the major one was the Air Medal," Robinson said. "One was given after about 10 or 12 missions, and I got my second after mission 22 or 23." In 2003, Robinson suffered a major heart attack. "I was 79 when I had my heart attack … it was a pretty severe one," Robinson said. "It should have taken me out, but I was on the operating table when I hit the big one, so they got me through it."

Robinson underwent open heart surgery after his heart attack, where doctors repaired a hole in his heart.

"It was pretty touch and go for a while. But, after about six weeks of recovery time, I came in here," Robinson said, referring to the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center located within the OCH Wellness Center. "I've been here for 12 years. I'm 92 years old … I contribute (my health) to the exercise here, with the help of these good people. We're just glad to be here."

Robinson attends the rehab center three times a week, and is able to get 50 minutes of cardio exercise during his visits

Recovering from CVD takes years. It requires a complete change in lifestyle from before, with a stricter diet, Robinson said.

February is American Heart Month. The Mississippi State Department of Health says that cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death in Mississippi. It accounts for over a third of deaths state-wide. Mississippi's cardiovascular disease mortality rate is the highest in the nation. The MSHD website lists different ways to prevent, manage, and reduce the risk factors of CVD.

Starting a heart-healthy lifestyle early in life helps prevent high blood pressure and other heart complications later in life. MSHD recommends having blood pressure regularly checked, eating wisely, keeping a healthy weight and staying active.

The website also lists red flags for recognizing CVD. It says that heart attacks are characterized by discomfort or pain in the center of the chest, discomfort in other parts of the body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath, and breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling nauseated or lightheaded.

According to the American Heart Association, most people who have an initial heart attack have another or recurrent heart attacks. Robinson said that he encourages people to go to the doctor, and, for people who are recovering from cardiac problems, he encourages them to attend programs like the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center in order to stay fit and active. "Cardiac rehab is a savior," Robinson said. "They have kept me alive for this long. I would have done some work by myself, but this is what kept us going. I believe in it."