Wellness: In Honor of Heart Month and Dad

Maureen Deutermann Features

This is the seventh in a series of articles from HNP’s Wellness Committee. The author is a director of community education at Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge, Va. Information about the committee and about health concerns is available through chair J . Patrick Kelly at 201-280-7644 and member Sr. Vicki Masterpaul at 716-373-0200, ext. 3304. 

He was my hero, my mentor, my friend.  When I was little, he made me oatmeal for breakfast.  I never could tell him that I didn’t like oatmeal.  His frequent compliment, “you look so pretty, honey”, did more to build a gawky teenager’s self esteem than any other words. He encouraged me to pursue not only nursing, but a college degree as well, noting I would be glad of it in years to come (I was, and still am!).  My daughter fondly remembers his standard telephone greeting: a boisterous rendition of “Yes, We have no Bananas!”

He had a wonderful heart, but not a physically healthy one. He was my father, and when he died of a cardiac arrest nearly 15 years ago, a light went out in my life.

I hope I inherited some of my father’s wonderful traits: he was a gentle, compassionate man who made a mark in his own little corner of the world.  I do know that I inherited one of the risk factors which eventually contributed to his heart disease: high blood pressure.  Fortunately, I had uncharacteristic headaches which led me to employee health department to have my blood pressure checked. It was, to put it mildly, “sky” high for a woman in her early  30s and I have kept it in check with medications ever since. I say “fortunately” because I was lucky to have a warning by way of the headaches; for most, the onset of high blood pressure has no symptoms, ergo its nickname “the silent killer”.

It is the same with other risk factors for heart disease: high cholesterol doesn’t come up and introduce itself to the unsuspecting victim, and some 6.2 million Americans are unwittingly  walking around with diabetes, a condition which puts one at much greater risk for heart disease than the general population.

The irony is this: heart disease remains the biggest killer of both men and women in this country, yet remains one of the most preventable diseases if risk factors are recognized and reckoned with.  So, what can one do to beat heart disease at its own game?

First, know that you are what your parents are.  If mom or dad had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and/or heart disease, you are at greater risk for these conditions.

Second, know your numbers. If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked recently, or have not had a blood test to check your lipid profile (which checks  total, LDL, HDL cholesterol and  triglycerides) and a fasting glucose (test for diabetes), do it!  What you don’t know could kill you, quite literally. Your physician can advise you when and how often these tests are warranted, considering age and existing risk factors.  I am faithfully and gratefully on my doctor’s doorstep every three months to make sure my blood pressure remains well-controlled. If you are already on medication for any of these conditions never, stop taking them without consulting your physician! 

Third, take stock of your lifestyle habits.  Being overweight, sedentary, and poorly managing stress all contribute to increasing your risk of heart disease.  Smokers beware: if you think your greatest risk from this bad habit is lung cancer you are wrong: heart disease kills far more smokers than lung cancer does.

My father’s life light was extinguished far too early. I pray that your own lights shine as long as the good Lord intends, and that you make sure of it by adopting a proactive attitude toward health.