Although the effects of heart disease are commonly known throughout the United States, the implications of such a disastrous disease are often overlooked. The facts are plain and simple. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, which equates to about 1 in 4 deaths. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing over 370,000 people annually. Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack. These statistics are troubling to say the least. However, just as with any disease, they are taken with a grain of salt until it finally affects someone close to us. Unfortunately, my family just went through such an ordeal. About 2 months ago, my father had his third heart attack. Scary, right? But he has had heart attacks before, he will certainly be okay after this one, just like before, right? However, a heart attack is not like breaking a bone, the heart doesn’t repair and grow stronger.
A heart attack is permanent damage to the heart muscle, as results in the death of tissue due to lack of blood supply. Normally, a network of blood vessels known as coronary arteries surround the heart muscle and supply it with blood that is rich in oxygen and nutrients. The heart muscle needs this continuous supply of oxygen and nutrients to function. A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery becomes suddenly blocked, stopping the flow of blood to the heart muscle and damaging it. After a heart attack, heart muscle damaged by the heart attack heals by forming scar tissue. Even though part of it may have been severely injured, the rest of the heart keeps working. However, because of the damage, the heart is weakened, and unable to pump as much blood as usual. More succinctly, after the heart attack, the affected region is, for all intents and purposes, dead, and can no longer function properly. This is exactly what happened to my dad. After 3 heart attacks, his heart was only able to function at about 25% capacity, making it difficult for his body to circulate blood. That means that every part of his body was affected due to a lack of nutrient rich blood and oxygen. This once strong man was confined to a bed, barely able to walk, or let alone breathe on his own. He was suffering. For almost 2 months he was in the hospital, making little progress, and then experiencing complication after complication setting him back at an unprecedented rate. It became clear, this heart attack was different, this was a death sentence. That may sound harsh and insensitive, but it was the reality of the situation, and something I have come to realize was unavoidable. After fighting for 2 months, he passed away on March 16th, shocking his family and leaving all of us questioning what went wrong. He was the pillar of our family, the man everyone looked to for love, care, and joy. Even in the darkest times of my life, or my children’s life, I knew I could look to my dad for guidance, or inspiration, to be the man I needed to be. He was the strongest person I ever had the privilege of knowing and I am truly the man I am today because of him. I love and miss you dad, rest in peace.
As tough as this has been for me, it has taught me many lessons. Most importantly, it has taught me that I need to take care of my health, especially my heart. Since his passing I have actively been looking for ways to take care of my health and ensure that I fight against any potential heart disease I could face. Here’s what I have learned. First and foremost, schedule a yearly checkup. This means going to the doctor and getting a yearly examination to see where you are healthwise and where you need to improve. If something is wrong, getting a physical can be the next logical step in maintaining your health. Even if it is just 15 minutes of cardio a day, you can make great progress with your health. Two major aspects of maintaining your health are drinking more water and eating healthier. This means controlling your cholesterol by cutting down on foods high in saturated fat or trans-fat, which can lead to high cholesterol. Furthermore, cut down on the amount of salt you are eating. This will help lower or maintain your blood pressure. Finally, although this doesn’t apply to me, it is imperative that if you smoke, quit! When you smoke, your arteries tighten, which makes your heart work harder. Smoking can also trigger an irregular heart rhythm and raise blood pressure. All in all, these are the basic elements I have learned to get in front of any potential heart disease, and these tips may allow me to live a longer life. I hope they are able to help you too.