Friday, February 4, 2011

Loving Dad Leaves Healthy Legacy

By Maureen Deutermann, MSN
Director of Community Education

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 22 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 to have my blood pressure checked. It was, to put it mildly, “sky high” for a woman in her early thirties and has been kept in check with medications ever since. I say “fortunately” because the headaches were a warning; for most, the onset of high blood pressure has no symptoms, ergo its nickname “the silent killer.”

So it is with other risk factors for heart disease: high cholesterol doesn’t come up and introduce itself to the unsuspecting victim, and some 7 million Americans are unknowingly walking around with diabetes, a condition which greatly increases risk of heart disease.

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 (includes 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, ever stop taking them without consulting your physician!

Third, take stock of your life style 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 horrific habit is lung cancer you are wrong: heart disease kills far more smokers than lung cancer.

My father’s life light was extinguished far too early. For your loved ones’ sake as well as your own, let your own light shine brightly on, by adopting a proactive attitude toward health!

Need to know your heart health numbers? Register for Sentara Potomac Hospital's special Heart Screening which includes: Complete 12-lead EKG Reading (includes atrial fibrillation screening), Cholesterol Test, Blood Pressure Check and a Heart Risk Evaluation. After the screening, participants are sent a pocket-sized card with an image of your baseline EKG on one side and essential emergency information and cardiac history on the other. Register online now or call 703-221-2500.