Fifty years ago next month, my dad died from a massive heart attack. I was 10 years old, and his passing changed the course of my life forever.
My father was 48 in 1962 when I was born, the youngest of his five kids. Six months later, he had a stroke.
The family rallied to ensure he got the rest doctors recommended for his recovery. My oldest sister left high school to take care of me while my mom worked to keep our family store open. After some time off, he returned to work until retirement, and he passed away 3 years later. He was a good man who left a legacy of love and faith that I’ve tried to emulate with my own family.
My sister says that he worked himself to death, and while there is likely some truth to that, I know that had he been treated today, his odds would have been much better.
While heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States, patients now have some agency. Fifty years ago, there were far fewer options available to patients with heart disease. My dad was told to go home and rest as there was nothing much to be done about his heart disease. He was never taught the steps he could take to improve his heart health and longevity. If he had known to prioritize regular exercise and heart-healthy nutrition, I believe he would have.
A few years ago, I asked my mom about my father's treatment and experience, and she told me that dad was very good at following his doctor’s orders. If cardiac rehab existed at the time, it certainly wasn’t suggested to my family. He retired and went home to make the most of his last days. We thought he was getting better, so his death just devastated all of us. He only got to see two of his kids married, never met any of his grandkids, and didn’t get to enjoy his retirement as he would today.
If my dad were to receive care today, the odds are that he would have lived for another 25 years. Medications are more effective, interventions exist that could have improved his ability to function, and rehab would have given him a chance to get stronger and learn how to manage his condition.
If at this point, you haven’t already gleaned what my Pritikin Why* is, it has a lot to do with my dad’s story. I know from personal experience the impact that heart disease can have on a family, and I want to use my talents to make a difference in those lives. If I do my job well, there’s a chance that we can save lives and keep families together a little longer. Knowing that I can have such a strong impact on people I don’t really know, keeps me going. I know the pain that a little boy can feel when Dad doesn’t come home, and I will fight like crazy to keep that from happening ever again.
I want you to remember that everyone has someone who needs them to come home.
Maybe you are a patient with heart disease struggling to make the necessary lifestyle changes. Please persevere, you have people who love you and want to see you get better. Your care team can only do so much; your health is your responsibility.
If you’re working in CR staff, every patient has a story and a family that needs them. It may be difficult to keep a positive attitude – especially if patients are reluctant - but your work and your optimism can make a HUGE difference not only in the lives of your patients but on the lives of their families and friends.
*What's someone’s “Pritikin Why”? Essentially, it’s the way our employees define why it is they chose to work with us at Pritikin ICR, and more importantly, why they choose to stay.