A doctor checks a patient for high blood pressure. Courtesy Centers for Disease Control
A doctor checks a patient for high blood pressure. Courtesy Centers for Disease Control

By Cecilia Bonaduce

Dear Dad,

An American has a heart attack every 42 seconds. Twenty-seven years ago, just before I was born, you were that statistic.

I grew up hearing about the time you felt “off” and drove yourself to the hospital — only to find out you were the in the midst of a life-threatening heart attack. You didn’t know the signs of “myocardial infarction” at the time, likely because only 27 percent of people in the United States are aware of all of the major symptoms of a heart attack.

But we know the symptoms now: you from experience and me as a medical student.

I know you didn’t think much about heart health before the episode. You were feeling great, living life and confidently approaching your 40s. But this heart attack made it inescapably clear that you needed to learn about heart disease and take steps to reduce your risk for future problems. It’s now been nearly thirty years without any heart problems!

I’m grateful that you recognized something “wasn’t right” and got yourself to a hospital. That decision enabled you to be present and healthy for my birth a few months later. And you were there when I won my first debate tournament in high school. You were there when I was accepted into UC Berkeley. And you were there to help carry furniture and boxes into my first dorm room (up seven flights of stairs with no elevator access!). You were there two years ago for my first day of medical school. And you’ll be there in six months to walk me down the aisle at my wedding.

We weren’t guaranteed to share any of these moments, and my heart is filled with so much gratitude and joy knowing you’re doing what it takes to protect your heart.

Because I didn’t fully understand heart disease and the importance of preventative care until I started medical school. Heart disease is the number one cause of death among men and women in the United States. We learned about the risk factors on the first day of cardiology class. Why day one? Because many of the risks are preventable and reversible.

In fact, 80 percent of heart disease and stroke events can be avoided with lifestyle changes and education. After our family’s experience, I now understand the importance of discussing risks, symptoms and prevention with my patients, family and friends.

High blood pressure and high cholesterol are two big risk factors for heart disease. I may know the names of the drugs used to address those risks, their mechanisms of action, and potential adverse effects — but Dad, you’re the one who figured out a system to take them every day and renew prescriptions before they run out.

Another risk factor? Physical inactivity. Dad, thank you for walking every day to stay active, and I love that you even walk to the gym to get extra cardio. I’m also grateful that you quit smoking cigarettes nearly thirty years ago — and never went back.

Thank you for taking these steps to reduce your risk of heart disease.

And thank you for letting me share our story with other dads and daughters — perhaps our #HeartToHeart story will help ensure others get to enjoy a lifetime of happy memories with their loved ones.

Love,

CC


Cecilia “CC” Bonaduce is a second-year medical student at UC San Diego School of Medicine and a member of the California Medical Association. February is national Heart Health Month.