Is Your Heart At Risk?

I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was Thursday, Oct. 23, 1969. I stood motionless, in a state of panic as I watched the EMTs perform CPR on my dad – but it was too little, too late. My father, at the very tender age of 54, had suffered a lethal myocardial infarction-more commonly known as a heart attack.

Little did I know at the time, that my dad was hiding a life-threatening condition.

If I knew what I know today, perhaps I would have gently encouraged my father to adopt a healthier lifestyle. My dad smoked one-and-a-half packs of cigarettes per day. We now know that smoking is bad for your health. I cannot recall if my dad ever counted his caloric intake or paid too much attention to what he believed were pointless ingredients in small print on the label of his food packages. Whatever tasted delicious, especially piping hot from the fryer, was deemed the perfect meal choice on my dad’s daily food plate. Today, we acknowledge that consuming highly saturated, fatty foods increases our cholesterol and triglyceride levels that cause plaque buildup and makes it more likely that blood clots will form in our arteries. There wasn’t a manual labor job that my father hadn’t tackled and, thankfully, he remained a strong, physically fit man throughout his entire lifespan. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, in part due to our increased intakes of sugar, fat, processed foods and the lack of physical activity.

I recently sat down with Dr. James Cirbus, long-time expert board-certified cardiologist in our community, to get the truths about this disease. “When most people think of heart disease, they think of a heart attack, the most common form of cardiovascular disease although it is only one facet of heart disease as we know it,” says Cirbus, FACC, medical director at the WCA Heart Center. “Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in America today, but there are a number of positive steps you can take to prevent a heart attack. Make sure you have a family physician and follow-up annually with your doctor. Get your routine base-line studies completed and know your blood pressure. Get your cholesterol level checked.

Most importantly, make a conscious decision to live a healthy lifestyle. Take the time to exercise. Eat a healthy diet and maintain a reasonable body weight. Do not use tobacco products. Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of heart disease in the United States. Another contributing risk factor is your family history. If your family history strongly increases your risk of heart disease, it begs the question, what constitutes ‘family history’? If your dad was a smoker, died of a heart attack at the age of 60, how does that affect your fate? If you do have a strong family history of heart attacks, particularly at a young age, it’s in your best interest to take these steps that reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke and other chronic diseases.”

According to the American Heart Association, about 715,000 Americans suffer a heart attack and approximately 600,000 Americans (both men and women) will die from cardiovascular or heart disease, annually.

Every year, during February American Heart Month, I reflect back on the years I shared with my beloved father and it gives me some peace to know that I can learn from my family history to make significant strides in preventing the development of this deadly disease.

Our intention is prevention. Keep aspiring for your dreams and stay well!

Toni DeAngelo, R.N., community health and wellness director at WCA Hospital, is a certified tobacco cessation specialist and patient navigator with more than 30 years of experience in critical care nursing and community health. For more about adopting a heart healthy lifestyle, reach out to DeAngelo at or call WCA Hospital Wellness at 664-8677. To learn more about WCA, visit

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This health column in no way seeks to serve as a substitute for professional medical care. Consult your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guideline.