Family history

Heart disease has plagued me for seven years. In less than two weeks, I will turn 27-years-old.

2002: My first experience seemed like it was ripped from a movie. It started with a phone call. My dad was on the other end. The doctors saw something they didn’t like during his routine physical. It “wasn’t a big deal” but the doctors were sending him to Cedar Rapids just to be sure. A few hours later I was numb.

Dad was going into surgery to have stents put in. What the heck is a stent anyway? An artery was almost blocked in two places. The stents would re-open them. It all happened so fast. I was a college sophomore two hours away facing finals in the morning. Mom said it was an outpatient thing. No big deal. Right. Yeah. Sure. Two hours later, Mom called to tell me everything had gone well.

2004: I sat in the surgical waiting room at St. Luke’s. An hour before, I kissed my mom’s forehead and watched her roll away into the fluorescent light. The doctors were trying to by-pass two blocked arteries. This was a big deal. I learned I hate ICUs.

I didn’t end up working in Okoboji that summer. I monitored her medicine, got up in the middle of the night to give her more pain meds, made sure her heart pillow was close, took her to appointments, and tended to her incision. I followed the ambulance when she went back to the hospital for pulmonary inflammation. I wasn’t there when she passed out, but I was shocked at the questions I knew to ask when we got to the hospital. When I went back to college in August, she was better than ever.

2006: I was standing in line at Burger King and almost dropped my cell phone. My brother was going in for triple by-pass surgery the next day. My 26-year-old, full of life, strong, healthy big brother. I ordered a salad.

The next day I found myself in the same surgical waiting room at St. Luke’s. After surgery, doctors said a chemical was present that indicated my brother had a heart attack. Except he had not only one, but three. He went to the Emergency room every time. And every time he was sent home with “acid reflux.” He was the youngest person his cardiologist had ever operated on. The doctors said it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d eaten greasy cheeseburgers every day of his 26 years. When I catch a glimpse of the scars on his forearms, I can see him in ICU. I hate ICU.

I have never had a heart attack. I’ve never had stents or by-pass surgery. But heart disease walks beside me every day. I can’t remember the last time I had a hamburger. Every time I feel even the slightest tension, the thought flashes through my head. I started running. I’m sick of chicken. I refuse to be number four.

In case you didn’t know, February is national Heart Month. Has been since 1963. The American Heart Association took it one step further by starting Go Red for Women. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. But not this woman.