It was a normal family dinner…
On Monday, April 24, 1995, I sat down for dinner with my parents and three little brothers.
I was a painfully shy high school senior. Over the weekend, my dad and I had argued about a college visit. St. Rose, one of the schools I was interested in, was having an event for prospective students. I was too scared to go, but my dad was adamant about my being there.
That Monday night, we patched things up, and dinner was filled with laughter. He headed out to play volleyball with his friends, as he always did on Monday nights in the spring.
Later that night, my mom got a call that woke us up. During the volleyball game, my dad wasn’t himself. At one point, he laid down on a bench and closed his eyes. Thinking everything was fine and my little brothers were taking advantage of the situation to stay up late, I went back to bed. A few hours later, I was woken again with the news that my dad had died.
Memory is a funny thing. Though I thought everything that happened would be indelibly imprinted in my brain, so much is fuzzy. I don’t even remember who woke me up to tell me.
My dad died of cardiomyopathy, a disease we didn’t even know he had.
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle causes it to enlarge, thicken, or become rigid, and weakens as it gets worse. There are a few types of cardiomyopathy. For some, no treatment is needed. For others, lifestyle changes, medicine, and/or surgery may be necessary. In my father’s case, it was inherited (rather than acquired, due to another condition or disease), there were no signs or symptoms, and it developed very quickly.
My dad was 38.
Although he always joked about wanting to be a young grandfather, my dad didn’t live to see any of his kids get their licenses, pick colleges, or get married, let alone start families. I was exactly two months shy of graduating high school. My youngest brother was only nine. My mom was a widow at 38.
And now I’m older than he ever was.
Turning 38 was surreal for me. It feels odd that I’m older than he ever had the chance to be. With him gone now for 23 years, he’s been out of my life much longer than the 17 years he was in it.
The impact of heart disease on my family didn’t start with my dad, and it didn’t end with him either. His own father died at just 50, and his father’s parents and brothers also died from heart-related issues.
Armed with this knowledge, I work diligently to keep my own heart healthy. I see a cardiologist annually. I also run, take yoga and barre classes, and my diet is full of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Research is key.
Since 2010, I’ve been a proud team captain for the American Heart Association’s Capital Region Heart Walk. Together with my family and my team, Arterial Motives, I’m walking in memory of my dad and grandfather, as well as in honor of several close loved ones who are survivors.
So, what are you doing on June 3?
Please join my family and me for the Heart Walk & Run. Why? Life is why! The American Heart Association is aiming to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent by 2020. Create your own team, join a team, or donate to a walker or runner to be a part of this important event.
Remember – if you experience any type of heart-related symptoms, including chest tightness, shortness of breath, swelling, or fatigue, do not ignore them, and seek the appropriate level of treatment. Also remember that symptoms for women can be different,- and include vomiting or jaw pain. To keep your heart healthy, monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol, manage your diabetes if you have it, and commit to keeping your stress level and your weight down. Your heart – and your overall health – will thank you.