I’ve had a lot on my heart lately.
A couple of weeks ago I visited briefly with my Uncle Jimmy, who had dropped by for a surprise (almost) 80th birthday party for my mother. Actually, all three of Mother’s surviving brothers — including uncles Glen and Owen — were present. Four of their siblings have already passed away.
Seventeen years ago, Jimmy received a wonderful gift as his heart deteriorated and as he began quickly to run out of time. He received a donor heart when such transplants were not nearly as common as they seem today. To be sure, he has some serious health issues, but when he goes back to the hospital each year for a check of his heart, physicians just shake their heads. My uncle received a good heart. Seventeen years later, it apparently still beats like a Swiss timepiece.
In his “Shepherd’s Call” column in our print issue, Wade Paris recounts a recent heart attack he didn’t realize he had experienced. He brushed off the pain as muscle ache, certainly not uncommon when one shovels snow. When Wade’s wife, Nellie, took him to the emergency room later, Wade learned that the aching muscle was his heart. By the time he left the hospital days later, he had experienced three heart bypasses. He was fortunate.
Wade is the chairperson of the Word&Way Board of Trustees and a good friend. I am very pleased that he is getting better, and I pray that his recovery will be rapid and complete.
Other friends have not been so fortunate. Unsuspected heart conditions resulted in unexpected death. Despite the best efforts at regular physical exams and positive eating and exercise habits, heart attacks have claimed their lives. Despite our best efforts, sometimes the worst still happens. Life has no guarantees, and we can’t always find satisfactory answers in the wake of such experiences.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about another victim of heart disease. My father had been disabled for several years with a heart condition when he suffered what became a lethal heart attack. He lasted less than a day after he was stricken 21 years ago. I am selfishly thinking of him as I get nearer and nearer to his age when he passed away. Our family experienced something similar when my mother-in-law died from a heart attack just a few years ago.
Dad gave me some of his genes.
For several years now, my doctor and I fellowship in his office twice a year because I have a family history of heart disease, as well as predisposition to high blood pressure and cholesterol, among other maladies.
My check-ups have a treatment aspect — the good physician wants to be sure I am taking prescribed medications faithfully. He urges me to eat more wisely and give greater attention to appropriate exercise. His staff weighs me every time I come in — hardly a subtle hint. The doctor asks me about stress. He carries my health history around with him in a small computer, and he scrolls down a health checklist when he sees me, looking up when an answer raises a concern.
I’m thinking especially about heart disease because it is the number one killer in America, because it is a particular threat to me and those who share my genes, and because this is American Heart Month.
It is no wonder this disease is such a potent killer, considering the stress under which our population lives today. We eat on the go, and we often grab food that isn’t very good for us. Salt, sugar and all those other things that we consume almost in overdose quantities conspire against us. Those of us for whom strenuous activity is not a part of our daily work can find ready reasons and convenient excuses to avoid the discipline of exercise.
When I am thinking about this particular health risk, I am in a better position to protect myself. As I write this column, I am enjoying a salad. It is the exception to my routine. I need to eat less fast food and go with more fresh fruits and vegetables. I need to engage in more activity than my recliner affords me. Perhaps you can relate.
Information is readily available about health issues affecting the heart and other parts of the body. Try the American Heart Association’s Web site — www.americanheart.org — for instance. Do the right things but learn to identify signs that suggest you, a colleague or a loved one may be experiencing a heart attack.
Pay attention to your doctor, and pay particular attention to your spouse.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.