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DALLAS It's been nearly five decades since Thedra Parker has been on a bike. The 58-year-old says she never stepped foot into a gym.

But in December, a near-death experience prompted her to change a lifetime of unhealthy habits, including a sedentary lifestyle and a diet that included whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it. Over the years, her family doctor had urged and warned her that she was going to die if she didn't improve her habits.

After experiencing some shortness of breath, doctors discovered Parker's heart arteries were so clogged that they rushed her into surgery. She received a triple bypass.

'I had to lay on that operating table. I had to wake up from that operating table,' she said. 'That's what it was, I had to wake up from it to change my bad habits.'

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women.Nearly half of all African-American women older than 20 have it, according to the American Heart Association.Most do not know it.

At Methodist Charlton Medical Center, cardiac rehab designed to get heart patients back on their feet taught Parker that changing isn't so hard. No one was more surprised than she was.

'Anybody can do it,' she says. 'You have to, to live.'

Since her heart surgery, Parker says she's has not eaten candy, cake, pie, or tacos all of which she ate nearly daily. For Christmas, she ate grilled fish. She now takes the bread off sandwiches.She also works out a minimum of three days a week.

She isn't the only one who has learned.

'I'm doing it,' said Bruce Parker, her husband. 'Changing my life.I've been inspired by my wife.'

The Parkers have each lost 25 pounds in the two months since the surgery.

'I'm not losing weight to look good,' she said. 'I'm losing weight to live. I'm eating right live.'

Her high blood pressure has also plummeted and her diabetes is more manageable, she said. She hopes it doesn't take a near-death experience to motivate other women.

Email jstjames@wfaa.com

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