This story was written for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women awareness campaign. To share your story, please visit http://www.goredforwomen.org/home/share-your-story
My Go Red For Women Story (about heart disease – family history and awareness)
When I got the call about my Dad, I expected something bad, but never expected the absolute worst. My Dad was only 55; he’d always been fairly active and had no chronic health conditions. After hearing about my Dad being taken to the hospital, I had to interrupt the caller and ask, “He will be alright, right?” The answer was beyond belief. I was told that my Dad had suffered a massive heart attack, and after 45 minutes of CPR, had been pronounced dead. Absolutely shocked, I screamed “No!!!! No! No! NO! He can’t be dead!” and sobbed vigorously while the minister said a prayer for me.
Seven years later, I still miss my Dad, and wish I could have helped him. His autopsy showed severe atherosclerosis that had developed over many years. Although he was physically active, wasn’t overweight, and didn’t drink or smoke, he had a strong family history of heart disease. The family history combined with mental illness was very dangerous and killed him in the end. His paranoia caused him to estrange himself from his family, distrust doctors and dentists (hadn’t been to either one in over 20 years), and only eat packaged food and fast food.
I wish my Dad were still around. I wish my kids had gotten the chance to know and love him. That chance is gone, but I can take care of myself and those close to me. We incorporate physical activity into every day; we cook most of our meals from scratch; we almost never eat processed food. I’ve learned it’s important to discuss family history of medical conditions with your relatives (I didn’t know until after my Dad passed away that two members of the family died before the age of 50 from heart attacks.) and that is is challenging to help someone with mental health issues get medical care. Do the best you can to make your loved ones make healthy choices, and take a page from that playbook while you’re at it.