You probably do not know me. In fact to you, I might very well be a stranger. But I am sure that you have met my close friends: heart disease and stroke. You might even know them better than I do, for I have only had the most intimate of relationships with them since 2006.
I met heart disease years ago, but not on a first name basis. Heart Disease wanted to meet my grandfathers first and become close friends with them before truly stepping through the doors to my own life. When I was a small child I remember tracing the long scar on my maternal grandfather’s chest with my fingers asking him to tell me the story behind the scar over and over again. Such a big scar, and such little fingers trying to understand the depth of what lay behind the incision.
In the sixth grade, heart disease decided to visit again. This time, to my paternal grandfather. The visit was such a surprise that we did not have time to plan… heart disease just came in, and when it left, it decided to take my grandfather from us. However, at that point in time, I still had small hands, and there were no scars to trace with my fingers, we only had pain left behind.
Stroke then decided to stop by, and visited my maternal grandfather. Twice. The second visit devastated us all – however, it devastated my grandfather the most, as it left him incapacitated and bedridden for 14 years and eventually too sick to keep fighting.
I suppose my family gained popularity and status in certain circles, because both heart disease and stroke decided to visit me in July 2006. Stroke made a surprise visit on July 21, 2006 and stayed for a while. I later learned that heart disease (congenital heart defect to be specific) had actually stopped by on November 20, 1972 the day I was born. However, it did not decide to make itself heard until stroke showed up. I guess it was an attention thing…
The funny thing with stroke and heart disease is that they are the kinds of guests that never really leave. They are always around, lurking in a corner, down a dark alley, and just waiting for the window to be left open just the tiniest amount so that they can come back. Heart disease is the nation’s number 1 uninvited guest – stroke is number 3.
You might not know me, but I am quite certain that you have met heart disease and/or stroke before. They sometimes come without letting you know in advance of their travel plans. They are not the kinds of friends or guests that you want to have in your home or in your family or friends’ homes. They do not say please or thank you, and when they leave, it is not quietly and often a path of destruction is a reminder of their visit.
You do not have to think twice about my story or feel pity or remorse– I have started to move beyond these visits, and beyond the fear of a potential “next” visit. I celebrate my life, with a new husband who recognized my signs of stroke. But think about yourself, your friends, and your family. Understand the importance of limiting the impact of these unwelcome guests. Support the American Heart and American Stroke Associations.