Highlighting our readers’ experiences with heart disease from their own
perspective. We’re always looking for contributions, so please send us
yours. Before submitting, please review our Writer’s Guidelines.
eart disease was never something I worried
about much. Although both my great-
grandfather and grandfather died at 74
from sudden cardiac arrests, I didn’t know
them. Besides, their deaths happened in the
kitchen, a room where I spent little time. However, when my
father died at 72 during open-heart surgery, I became less
cavalier and much more concerned about my own potential
for a heart attack. In lighter moments, I saw these three as
horsemen of the apocalypse riding toward me, wielding their
swords of genetic menace. I was, nonetheless, determined
that their fates would not become mine.
With that in mind, I set about building walls around my
heart. When my “bad” cholesterol, which blocks coronary
arteries, increased, I built the first wall: I renounced meat —
sort of — reducing my intake of beef or pork to eight ounces
daily. Cholesterol easily breached this barrier. Medication that
lowers “bad” cholesterol levels was the second and better
wall, sending the cholesterol into retreat. Red meat remained
in my diet, but three-ounce servings, not eight.
Having beaten back that insidious enemy, I thought I would
no longer be in danger of assault from my forebears’ cardiac
problems. Not so, as I discovered during my annual checkup.
“You have a heart murmur,” the doctor said.
“What’s that?” My heart started galloping. Murmur didn’t
sound too bad, but heart…?
He explained that my murmur was an unusual sound,
indicating that I had a damaged aortic valve, which if not
replaced, could someday cause my death. And not just in
As it didn’t seem like a pressing problem then, I decided
to carry on with my usual activities, at least until the next
annual medical exam. So I watched the cholesterol and
continued to eat only inert meat and in quantities that didn’t
tip the “too much” scale.
Breathing became more of a problem in the next few
years. When I reached 70, climbing a small hill in the
wilderness left me panting. Ascending the stairs in subway
stations required several stops for breath and a tighter grip
on the handrail to keep my balance. That valve needed to be
replaced and soon!
The first step in the valve replacement process was a
coronary angiogram, a special X-ray test to determine if any
other problems, such as blocked coronary arteries, were
present. At this point my fear level was low. A few days
before I had this exam, I suspected that life-threatening
cardiac surgery might be imminent, so I had a Catholic priest
bless me. The blessing used to be called Extreme Unction,
meaning “the last anointing,” but that always signaled the
recipient was a dead guy for sure. It has been re-named
The Anointing of the Sick. Good idea! After the blessing, and
Didn’t Get to
By Thomas Laver | Scarborough, Ontario