A Heart For Success

Danny D. Villanueva triumphs in sports, business...and health

By Edie J. Herons
Published on LatinoLA: February 7, 2003

A Heart For Success

To say that Danny D. Villanueva has a heart for success is an understatement. Not only is he a former Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys star, holding several team kicking records and the NFL record for extra points in one season (57), but he also practically invented Spanish language television in the United States.

It was under his innovative direction that KMEX-TV, Channel 34 in Los Angeles became the nation?s most profitable Spanish language station.

After Univision was sold to Hallmark Cards and First Chicago Venture Capital in 1988, Danny remained as KMEX?s GM until 1990 when he founded Bastion Capital Corporation, the largest Latino-owned private equity investment, which recently sold Telemundo, the second largest Spanish language network in the US, to NBC for $2 billion.

Along the way Danny has touched many lives with his continuous support of the many organizations he holds close to his heart.

It was 1989 when Danny began to feel shortness of breath and numbness in his left hand whenever he exerted himself. Familiar with the signs of heart disease, he decided to consult with a cardiologist. His condition was diagnosed as Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), a ?hardening? of the coronary arteries on the surface of the heart.

To correct the problem his physician recommended Balloon Angioplasty, a procedure in which the surgeon inserts a catheter with a deflated balloon at its tip, into the narrowed part of the artery.

The balloon is then inflated, compressing the plaque and enlarging the inner diameter of the blood vessel so blood can flow more easily. The balloon is then deflated and the catheter removed.

Heart disease runs in Villanueva?s family. It has taken two of his brothers. One of them had a heart transplant. Fortunately, it has been 14 years since Danny?s angioplasty, and he has had no complications.

The Villanueva family is not unique in this respect. The fact is diseases of the heart and stroke are the Number One and Three killers of Latinos, respectively, claiming the lives of almost 31 percent of the nearly 104,000 Americans of Latino descent who die each year.

Among Mexican-American adults, about 29 percent of men and 27 percent of women have cardiovascular disease (CVD). This includes diseases of the heart, stroke, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, congenital heart defects, hardening of the arteries, and other disorders of the circulatory system.

Diabetes, another risk factor for heart disease, also runs in the Villanueva family, so Danny is constantly monitoring his sugar level, and watching his diet. Other than that, his lifestyle is pretty much the way it has always been ? active.

?We have to educate the Latino community about heart disease,? says Danny. ?My doctor friends tell me our babies are the most healthy of all ethnic groups when they are born. But then something happens along the way. It?s unfortunate, when it comes to health, we start at number one and finish last. Our people seem to have this attitude of ?que ser? ser??, whatever happens, happens. So they don?t watch their diets and don?t realize how important exercise is. Therefore, health organizations such as the American Heart Association need to provide information to the public, and create in them the will to take care of themselves, to change their diet and know that disease is not God?s will. It can be overcome.?

Danny is also concerned about the fact that diet and physical inactivity are becoming a major problem. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy reports that childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels in California.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data reveals that the prevalence of obesity among children, including Latino kids, from six to eleven years old increased nearly four-fold between 1963 and 2000.

Among adolescents from 12-19 years old, the prevalence of overweight children increased more than three-fold between 1966 and 2000.

Experts worry that if this trend continues, we will begin to see heart disease affecting even more young people in a not too distant future.

According to the Surgeon General, overweight children face a greater risk of a host of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, asthma, sleep apnea, and orthopedic problems. Obese kids are also hospitalized more often than children with a healthy weight.

Across all districts in the state of California, 33.7 percent of Latino children are overweight and 44.5 percent are unfit.

?Information is a key element in the solution of this growing problem,? Danny says. ?Parents need to understand the dangers of obesity. They need to know they can still make our typical Mexican and Latin-American dishes, but in a healthier way.?

Villanueva has always been committed to the improvement of all the communities, but particularly the Latino community. Having been so personally affected by cardiovascular disease, he understands and supports the American Heart Association?s goal to reduce disability and death from coronary heart disease, stroke, and risk by 25 percent by the year 2010.

Danny has received many well-deserved honors throughout his impressive career. And in April of this year Danny will be inducted into the National Television Academy Hall of Fame ? the first Latino to receive that honor.

2003 is also the year Danny has chosen to retire?for the third time, although he will continue to consult for his two sons, Jimmy and Danny Jr. So don?t be surprised if this pillar of our communities decides to continue following his heart on the path to success, both professional and personal.

February is American Heart Month, and the American Heart Association would like you to remember the following phrase: ?Cuerpo sano, coraz?n contento? ? a healthy body means a happy heart.

About Edie J. Herons:
Edie J. Herons is the Latino Media Director at the American Heart Association and is a regular LatinoLA contributor.

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