The Ball is in Your Court

The City of Pittsburgh

The City of Pittsburgh

The year was 1967.  The world was increasingly more complex as baby boomers began to occupy the workforce and wanted change in the American way of life.  And they were willing to work for it.  Work in the 1960’s often involved long hours where husbands supported their wives and children.  It often entailed physical labor.  Workers smoked on the job and indoors, with very little stigma attached to smoking in public places.  You could hear the music of Simon & Garfunkel and the melancholic ballads of Elvis as people drank and smoked as a part of their social activities.  It was not uncommon to smell the lingering reek of cigarette in public places.  The Sixties saw fast food chains advance with McDonald’s growth leading the force, only challenged by Burger King and Colonel Sanders with his famous Kentucky fried chicken.  People were eating food that could and would lead to obesity and serious health problems.

Setting this scene, allow me to introduce you to Albert, a man possessing Type A personality traits — a high achieving “ workaholic”, an impatient, ambitious man, seeing the world as unfair and unrelenting.  Al was a pipe-fitter in a steel mill in Pittsburgh, where he worked long hours, ate lunch quickly when possible and smoked three packs of Camels every day.  Like many men of this generation, he had started smoking when he was only 13 years old.  Although Al never exercised, he maintained a trim body weight during his lifetime.  He worked strenuously, endlessly.  The days consisted of long shifts where breaks were unheard of.  The demanding conditions drained the life out of the workers.  Depleted and empty, they would head home at the end of the day to rest enough to complete the unremitting process once again.

Albert collapsed at home, dying of a massive myocardial infarction (heart attack), leaving behind four sons and a daughter, at the age of only 37 years.  The youngest child was sixteen-months of age, a little boy named Rick, who now was fatherless.  Rick would have only faded pictures and spoken words and stories from family about a man who loved him with all his heart.  Rick had lost his parent, his teacher, his hero. This was the Sixties, where there was no CPR.   Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was first endorsed as a technique for the general public to learn in the early 1970’s.

What is the takeaway message?  Pause and think, with a strong family history of heart disease, what should Rick’s path be?  Could YOU be Rick?  What is YOUR family history?  Knowledge is power.  If you know you have risk factors for a health condition, it is obvious that you need to take steps to reduce them.  Whatever he needs to do, he needs to do it now.  Soon, he will be asking “How did it get to be so late?”

This was not an uncommon scenario in the 1960’s.  The National Institute of Health Fact Sheet reports:

“In the 1960s, it was not uncommon for Americans to die of heart attacks in their 50s or 60s.”

“The effects of smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity on the development of heart disease were unknown. Following a heart attack there were limited treatments for the damage suffered by the heart. Those patients who did not die from their heart attack remained severely debilitated.”

“The U.S. death rate for coronary heart disease rose steadily during the first half of the 20th century, reaching a peak in 1968.”

Fast forward to the year 2013.  Rick is now 10 years past the age that his father was when he died of a myocardial infarction.  Rick is a fast-paced, high-stressed corporate executive who spends days and weeks traveling worldwide.  A typical week can be filled with focused, high-pressure conference calls, travel and a marathon of meetings.  He eats out frequently, paying little attention to nutrient value or caloric intake of his meals.  He lacks exercise and has little motivation to gain this momentum, not realizing the physical toll that lack of sleep and exercise is taking.  Perhaps smoking will help him relax?  Can you relate to this story?  Do you have a family history that is similar to this?  What are you doing about it?

Today the American Heart Association promotes heart-healthy lifestyle changes that will increase longevity and well-being.  The risk factors for heart disease include not only family history, but also high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity.  The AHA is committed to improving the health of its citizens through public awareness campaigns and websites with information to assist in achieving heart-healthy behaviors.  New advanced technologies and procedures are improving both diagnosis and treatment.  New medications continue to be developed.

The ball is now in your court.  The ball is now in my court.  The ball is now in Rick’s court.

About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths as reported by the Center for Disease Prevention.     You can choose to be that statistic or you can choose not to be it.  IT IS ALWAYS A CHOICE.  They can surgically implant stents and prescribe medications, but the choice still lies with you.  What are your long-term goals and how will you proceed to move forward?  Will you choose to exercise daily?  Will you make the right food choices?  What motivates you to take the healthy path?

I always have the lingering memory of my cardiologist telling me that exercising is just as important, if not more important than taking my prescription medications.  It never fails.  Every morning and every night, when I take my fistful of medications, I remember his words and “take my exercise pill” by heading out the door for a walk or heading to the gym or mall.  Exercise is my hope for another tomorrow.  The cardiologist’s words are my motivation.

Studies on exercise and heart disease have shown that:

Walking at a moderate pace — 3 to 4 miles per hour for 30 minutes a day — can cut the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent.

Heart attack patients who participated in a formal exercise program had death rates 20 to 25 percent lower than those who did not.

In addition to exercise, being careful about what you eat—and what you don’t eat—can help you lower cholesterol, control blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and maintain a healthy weight. Following the Mediterranean diet, is a good step towards good health.  Lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and whole grains are good choices.  Patterns of behavior in relation to meditation, stress reduction, blood sugar control, medication follow-through and blood pressure maintenance can either raise or lower one’s chances of coronary artery disease.

No one brings this essential concept home better than Carolyn Thomas on her blog, Heart Sisters  when she wrote “What Patients with Heart Disease need to learn from Cancer Patients.”   She echoed Dr. Richard Fogoros words when he spoke about patient accountability admonishing cardiac patients:

 “You need to change your life. If you don’t, you will suffer the consequences – possibly decades earlier than is necessary.”

Cardiac patients need to take the same mindset and determination that cancer patients do – taking on surgery, radiation, chemotherapy – all to attempt a cure.  Dr. Fogoros cautions cardiac patients they ought to take the same mindset in dealing with their diagnosis:

“After all, being told you are at high risk for a cardiac event is not all that much different than being told you have cancer. Heart disease is no less fatal, and the outcome no less dependent on your attitude and your active participation in doing what’s necessary.

If anything, you have a much better chance of favorably altering the ultimate outcome than the average patient with cancer.”

For those of you with a father or mother that died too young of heart disease, for those of you who have a diagnosis of cardiac disease and for those of you that have children who have cardiac disease in their family history – Wake up tomorrow morning and make the right choices.

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

“We are our choices.”

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12 Comments on “The Ball is in Your Court

  1. Every week I look forward to this week’s education and wisdom on the heart. Thanks for the great and inspiring blog each week!

    • Thank you, Ping. It is great to see your comment as this post was written from the heart with some very special people in mind. Take care of your heart! Take care of your Mom’s heart too. May all who see this comment, say a prayer for Ping’s mother who just had CABG surgery this past week.

  2. Sharon –
    love your message. not only the education, but also the words of wisdom for life not only for those dealing with heart related problems, but for anyone at any age & any walk of life. thank you for sharing & speaking ‘from the heart’

    • Thank you, Sarah… Your words have much meaning. It was Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who said: “The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.” We all have our own set of struggles, our own regrets and losses, but we must remember we are HERE NOW with the power to shape our day and make a difference however we may. I wish you the strength for the day ahead… and then each “one day at a time” ahead.

      • Those are powerful words from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Hate to admit it, but it is so true. I so enjoy your blog – when I see your writings/blogs, it somehow takes on a more personal meaning. Both of my parents smoked and my mother had her first heart attack at 49 and died at 64. My father smoked most of his life and died at 78 of emphasema and a heart attack.
        A word to Ping; I am praying for your entire family, nurses and doctors for your mother’s full recovery.
        Char/Ida Mae

      • Thank you, Ida Mae for your kind words. Smoking was so much more prevalent and an accepted way of life years ago. Education about smoking and its impact on health has made a difference in the lives of many. Thank you for your prayers for Ping’s mother – she has a long road ahead in recovery.

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