I am my father’s daughter. I look like him. I sound like him. I think like him. I inherited my dad’s height, his sense of humor and his thirst for knowledge. My dad taught me how to tie my shoes, how to drive a car and everything in between. Growing up, there was nothing I wanted more than his approval and for him to be proud of me.
In November 2008, I was a college freshman and nearing the halfway point of my first semester. Thanksgiving break was near, and I was excited to fly home to spend the holiday with my family. But on the Monday before break, my sister called with devastating news: our dad had died. He was only 47 years old.
Once I hung up the phone, all my thoughts went numb. I could not understand. My dad was a tall, strong and seemingly healthy man whom I’d just spoken with the night before. What happened? How could he be gone? This didn’t make sense.
Our family quickly learned that he’d passed in his sleep from congestive heart failure (CHF), a chronic condition in which the heart fails to pump blood as well as it should. The lack of flow can then cause blood and other fluids to back up into the lungs, abdomen and liver. Ironically, it’s the exact same disease that took his father’s life at the same age.
Discovering that CHF was the demise of both my dad and my grandfather terrified me. Was I next? Will my life have the same ending 15 years from now? Based solely off of this personal experience, I could only assume the worst.
But I could not live in fear of this disease. I knew little to nothing about CHF, and I could not let the unknown hang over my head. I was raised to believe that knowledge is power, and I owed it to myself to learn more.
To my disbelief, I discovered that CHF is more prevalent than I’d thought. It’s estimated 550,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. And sadly, more than half pass away within five years once it’s been detected. While this condition cannot be cured, it certainly can be treated.
Every year, the American Heart Association mark February as American Heart Month, a time for men and women to commit to a healthy lifestyle and make small changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health. Routine check-ups, consistent exercise, healthy eating and taking prescribed medications are just a few of the proper steps encouraged by the CDC. By setting small, achievable goals and tracking them along the way can lead to longer, more prosperous life.
If you, or someone you know, are experiencing symptoms of chest pain, rapid breathing, wheezing and an unshakeable cough, I urge you to visit your doctor immediately.
Nearly 9 years after his death, I still miss my dad dearly. However, the peace of mind I’ve gained from learning about CHF and ways to prevent it is invaluable. Today, I look forward to leading a healthier lifestyle while being able to share my dad’s story. If I can help to bring awareness to even one person or family by sharing my experience, I will be proud.
And if I am proud of me, my dad would be too.