This is taken shortly before my dad had his first heart attack, 1972.
When I was 10 my dad had his first heart attack. Apparently it happened, or started to happen, when he and I were playing Putt-Putt one night. I don’t remember that part, but I’ve been told. I do remember him being in the hospital and I couldn’t see him, and I remember thinking that that wasn’t fair. It took awhile, but he recovered. Knowing he now had to deal with heart disease, he gave up smoking (cessation was made easier by the fact that withdrawal took place in the ICU) and started to eat better.
A good luck kiss before a tennis match.
Still, nine years later he had his second and fatal heart attack. I was at college then, far away from home. It was the last week of my freshman year. Exam week. When I got back to my dorm room after taking my Sociology exam there was a note on my door from my college master (I went to Rice University and it’s on a college system.) It said to come over to see him when I got home.
Wondering/ fearing if I was in trouble for something, I wandered over. I remembered sitting on an ottoman, my professor kneeling beside me, when he told me my dad had had a heart attack, and then there was the slightest hesitation before he added, “and died.” It was like a physical blow, and I fell off the ottoman. My professor was beyond wonderful. He had already made arrangements for my flight home, and had rallied my friends who helped me pack and who rode with me to the airport. I have no memory of that flight home. I am fairly certain I cried for the entire flight, seat mate from hell.
Last vacation with both my parents, Bermuda 1980
I’m writing about this because it is American Heart Month, and because of my personal experience it’s something I care about a great deal. Heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in the United States. Over one quarter of all deaths is from heart disease, and it is a major cause of disability as well. And while the death rate from cardiovascular disease has decreased among men, it continues to increase in women. Nearly 500,000 women die of it each year. And 64% of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. So I thought I’d take my little ol’ blog here and have my very own public service announcement.
Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease in Women:
*Family history of heart disease – if one or both of your parents have/had cardiovascular disease, especially if it was diagnosed before they were 50, you are at increased risk. Be sure and tell your doctor your family history so he can screen for heart disease and treat if necessary.
*Older age – heart disease risk rises dramatically for women over age 50, especially after menopause. (Estrogen protects against heart disease. When estrogen levels fall, heart disease risk rises.)
*Race – African Americans, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans are at a higher risk of heart disease, perhaps due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes in these populations.
*High blood cholesterol and high triglycerides
*High blood pressure
*Being overweight (BMI from 25-29) or being obese (BMI >30). Weight distribution has been shown to be a factor as well. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases with a waist measurement of over 35 inches in women, and 40 inches in men.
*Diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol
*Drinking too much alcohol.
Signs of a Heart Attack:
*Chest pain or discomfort – this is the most common sign of a heart attack in both men and women. The pain can be mild or severe, and it can last for more than a few minutes, or come and go
*Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck jaw, or stomach
*Shortness of breath
*Breaking out in a cold sweat
Less Common Symptoms Experienced By Women:
*Loss of Appetite
*Feeling weak or tired
***IF YOU THINK YOU, OR SOMEONE ELSE, MAY BE HAVING A HEART ATTACK, CALL 911.
Ways Women Can Lower Risk of Cardiovascular Disease:
*Know your blood pressure – often people with high blood pressure experience no symptoms so be sure and get screened regularly, and follow treatment plan issued by physician
*Get tested for diabetes and treat if necessary.
*Have your cholesterol levels tested regularly. High blood cholesterol can clog arteries and lead to heart attack.
*Don’t smoke, and if you do, quit. Look for a support group and talk to your physician about products that may be helpful.
*Maintain a healthy weight
*Find healthy ways to cope with stress
*Limit alcohol to one drink a day
I hope you’ve found this helpful.
My dad being silly.
My dad was a great guy. I think everyone who knew him would attest to that. I was lucky to have him. And I damn sure wish I’d had him for longer. I wish my dad had seen me graduate. I wish he’d walked me down the aisle. I wish he’d met my kids. So many wishes. So many tears over the years. Oh, and don’t even get me started with the Hallmark ads.
My dad with my nephew, Geoffrey, the only grandchild he got to meet.
I know sometimes life throws us curve balls and we can’t control a lot of things that happen. But I think we should do our best to stay healthy and here. I want to stick around so I can continue to offer my children my amazingly sage advice (i.e. drive them crazy) for years to come. Lucky kids.
***On the bright side, my dad always used to say that he wanted to die on the tennis courts or on the golf course. He died on April 26, 1981, while playing golf with my mom. His last words were, “I’m fine.”
Howard Avory Grayson 1926-1981