My dad’s heart story

February is American Heart Month. Every year I post about my heart health during February. I have shared my experiences as a heart attack survivor. I was given a second chance at life that 10% of heart attack patients are not given. This year I share the story of my dad’s death. It’s a story of a person who did not care for his body with the worse possible outcome.

My mom knelt on the bathroom floor wiping up a pool of blood. It was the second time my dad had thrown up blood in the past week. He refused to go to the hospital for the first time. She gave him no choice the second time. It was an omen of bad things to come in the following week.

The news only worsened at the hospital. My dad was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer, coronary heart disease, and hypertension. This diagnosis complicated scheduling surgery to repair the ulcer. His heart was not strong enough to survive the surgery. He needed time for his body to recover and stabilize.

Early Saturday, February 21, 1970, our family was preparing to head to the hospital. My dad was being transferred from intensive care to a standard hospital room. It was good news after a week of bad news. A phone call that morning changed our lives forever. The doctor told my mom that my dad passed away.

Our family was besieged with questions on the cause of my dad’s death. The ulcer brought him to the hospital, but his weak heart ultimately stopped beating. He was ignorant of things that could save his life. Today, society is more informed of the risk factors for coronary heart disease thanks to the American Heart Association.

What were the signs my father ignored in 1970?

  • High stress. My dad’s business was falling. His family cafe was in a changing, declining neighborhood. He tried to hide the stress and keep the family business and traditions alive. He prided himself on providing for his family. This did not go unnoticed by me.
  • Smoking. Smoking was much more socially acceptable in the 60s. Both my parents were smokers. My dad was not just a casual smoker.
  • Unhealthy weight. My dad was a short chubby guy. There was no talk about BMI and healthy weight in the 60s. He would certainly be classified as obese today.
  • Poor diet. My dad loved his Hungarian food, food that is far from healthy. No one counted calories or cared about fat and sugar in those days.
  • Sedentary life. My dad worked long hours 6 days a week as a small business owner. He spent Sundays with the family and rested. I can’t recall a single instance of my father being active.
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol. My dad NEVER went to the doctor. He was unaware of his cholesterol and blood pressure values. He took no medications.
  • Family history. My dad’s family has a history of coronary heart disease. It is a reality. It is not a risk factor you wipe away. It is something he was not vigilant about watching for warning signs.

I share this story so that others will not repeat this story in their lives. My father was an extreme case of not caring for his body. He suffered the consequences. The consequences lived beyond his death. My family has felt those consequences over the past fifty years. This story illustrates what can be done to repeat his story in our lives. Here is my list of six things you should do for yourself and your family regarding your health.

  1. Visit your doctor regularly. You need to know your vitals including your blood pressure, cholesterol and heart health indicators. Cardiac disease is a silent killer.
  2. Manage your stress. I believe this was the major cause of my dad’s death. Being stressed wears a person down mentally and physically. Don’t let stress take control of your life.
  3. Stop smoking. I hope you understand how detrimental to your health cigarettes and tobacco are.
  4. Strive for a healthy weight. This is a difficult thing for many including me. Do the best you can to keep your weight down.
  5. Watch your diet. Eating a better diet works together with being active to maintain a healthy body and weight. Keep working at it.
  6. Be active. Look for opportunities to Integrate exercise into your life. Start small. Develop a habit of regular exercise. Your body will thank you.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Each of us needs to take control of our own heart health. My father illustrates what happens when you ignore your heart health. I would never want any family to experience what my family experienced.

Take care of your heart.

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