In the early hours of the morning, I was awakened by a loud phone ringing from our living room. I wondered who could be calling at that hour as I drifted back to sleep. As an eight-year-old, I didn’t realize that early morning calls rarely yielded good news. After what seemed like only minutes, Mom came in and got me up for school. It was obvious she had been crying because her eyes were puffy, and I became frightened.
After showering and getting dressed, I went to the dining room for my breakfast. There, I found my Dad sitting silently and he seemed to be in shock. He turned to me and said “Your Grandpa died last night. He had a heart attack”. The phone call had been my grandmother’s urgent plea for dad to come next door because Grandpa wasn’t breathing. With several minutes of CPR from Dad, which were fruitless; Grandpa left us. Devastated, I couldn’t eat and boarded the school bus several minutes later in a fog.
I knew enough about death to understand that Grandpa wasn’t coming back. I spoke little the entire day, lost in my grief. At the time, I had no idea how Grandpa’s death from a heart attack caused by Coronary Artery Disease would impact my personal and professional future. I really missed Grandpa; he was my hero. As time passed, I started asking questions about his health and what caused his death. I learned he was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease and experienced chest pains for about two years before he passed away. He took nitroglycerin pills for his episodes. Dad even said he had been chewing them like candy for several months.
Few months before his heart attack, he had an appointment with a cardiologist. He was told that his Coronary Artery Disease was severe and he needed an immediate coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Grandpa was uninsured, so he refused to do the surgery immediately. He opted to wait until the end of the year when he would be qualified for a Medicare. Then, he was given instructions on lifestyle changes by the cardiologist, which he ignored. He was in his early 60’s when he died.
I’ve always wondered how our lives would have been different if he had lived to an average life expectancy. His loss was a great burden for my dad to bear. He was responsible for taking care of grandma, as well as running the ranch and farm alone. As I got into my late teens, I wondered what more could have been done for Grandpa to extend his life. In my senior year of college, I decided I wanted to do something about it. I decided to seek employment in the cardiac rehabilitation field when I graduated. This enabled me to learn more about Coronary Artery Disease, and what I could do to help people suffering from it.
Heart disease has been the number one killer of both men and women in the United States for many years. Under its broad umbrella of conditions, Coronary Artery Disease is the most common type. It can start as soon as a person’s early 20’s and is progressive and chronic in nature.
In my 22-year career as a clinician working in Cardiac Rehabilitation, I have had clients with Coronary Artery Disease as young as 25 and as old as 92. I once heard a cardiologist mention that if we live long enough, each of us will develop the plaque blockages in the heart arteries that characterize the disease. People who have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol are at higher risk of developing the disease. People who smoke or have sedentary jobs can also develop Coronary Artery Disease.
Dealing with Coronary Artery Disease
Fortunately, medical science has come a long way since my grandfather’s time. There are several ways to detect a Coronary Artery Disease before it leads to a heart attack. Stress tests and Angiography are mostly used to detect if someone is suffering from the disease. Several options including Bypass Surgery are mainly used to treat the disease. Coronary angioplasty and stenting have also been used effectively for more than 20 years. Effective medications have been developed to manage the symptoms of the disease.
Support from Medical practitioners
From a medical viewpoint, having both a primary physician and cardiologist is a key ingredient to setting up a positive support system. They must be good listeners and be willing to partner with their patient. The medical care providers must be able to offer treatment plan options. They should also be able to encourage their patients to make positive lifestyle changes.
A cardiac rehab program
Another helpful piece is having access to a cardiac rehab program, which helps people to learn how to manage their risk of Coronary Artery Disease. It is also a place where such patient can recover from heart attacks, stents, and open heart surgery. Program staff have the skills and knowledge to give the patients the best chance to manage their Coronary Artery Disease. This will enable them to have the best quality of life possible. A cardiac rehab is comprehensive, offering not only supervised exercise, but also offering education and access to dietitians, pharmacists, and mental health professionals. Most patients can form emotional ties with other program participants and this is really helpful in coping with the disease.
Support from friends and family
From a personal standpoint, receiving reassurance from family, friends, and neighbors living successfully with Coronary Artery Disease is important. Getting encouragement from them can have an important effect on how the patient can make healthy lifestyle choices. Depression and anxiety are common side effects of Coronary Artery Disease. Learning and using the ability to focus on positive elements of life rather than negative will create the frame of mind necessary to have a good quality of life. You could join heart disease support groups to help you deal with the disease.
Many have lost family members, friends, and neighbors to Coronary Heart Disease. There are also many survivors who have thus far been able to manage their condition effectively. The impact has been both negative and positive. The emotional toll of Coronary Artery Disease is considerable.
Having the condition is a daily reminder of our mortality. I look at my family and see a paternal history of every male dying from Coronary Artery Disease before age 80. This knowledge, although ominous, has motivated both my dad and me to follow healthy lifestyle habits. We know we may not make it past 80, as our years are in God’s hands. Let us enjoy our life with our friends and family and live healthily. Grandpa’s death from Coronary Artery Disease has impacted each of our lives in positive ways he could never have imagined.
For greater insight into interacting with those suffering from the issues mentioned in the article or if you would like to chat with others affected, I highly recommend joining the app, Reachout.
Jeff Redekopp is a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has worked in cardiac and pulmonary rehab programs as a staff member, coordinator, and manager for twenty-two years. He is also a freelance writer and web researcher.