By Erika Fehrenbach Prell
Vibrant red dresses. Hearts everywhere. Passionate speeches. You know where I am going, right?
It’s Heart Awareness Month!!
(Did you see that coming?)
I look forward to Heart Awareness Month every year, seriously, I am not even kidding. I am passionate about heart health awareness and heart disease prevention. The course of my life and life’s passion was directly influenced by heart disease. The summer before my sophomore year in college, my dad’s best friend, Bob, died suddenly and unexpectedly from a massive heart attack at the age of 47. His death is the only reason my father recognized his own heart symptoms two months later, ultimately undergoing emergency heart bypass surgery. These two life events set me on my path to becoming a nurse practitioner specializing in cardiac surgery and, ultimately, to the present where I hope to inspire people to live their best and healthiest lives.
So, DreamChasers, here it is. I present to you the 2020 State of the Heart Address!
My fellow DreamChasers!
It is time for YOU to take back YOUR heart health. For more than a decade, heart disease has been the #1 killer of men and women worldwide. And, WOMEN, listen up! Heart disease kills 1 in 3 women; it's such an issue that this month is also Go Red for Women month to heighten awareness. Heart disease kills more than all cancers combined. And, unlike many cancers, most heart diseases are preventable. YOU have control to set your path to heart health or heart disease. So, ask yourself, which path are you on? One of denial or awareness?
Denial means being in the dark, thinking something as serious as heart disease happens only to other people. My dad’s friend, Bob, was in denial. His denial was not his fault; he didn't know. He was only 47, and the severity of his heart disease was worse than should have been for someone his age. But, if he would have explored his risk factors, his outcome may have been different.
Denial means not knowing what to look for in heart symptoms, until it’s too late. That was Bob. He didn’t have the “classic” symptoms of chest pressure, or at least all that he relayed to his wife was that he was having a lot of indigestion. (This is actually a common way chest pain presents. Check out www.americanheart.org for more information!). Unfortunately, Bob’s denial never changed to awareness as he had a fatal heart attack instead.
Awareness often comes from the experience of others. And, this is how my dad, Tom, became aware that he might have heart disease. Two months after Bob died, my dad noticed he was having chest pain with mowing the lawn. It stopped as soon as he stopped exerting himself. Leaning from Bob, he contacted his doctor with his concern for his symptoms. Again, no one really expected him to have any significant findings because he was way too young. Yes, he had a strong family history of heart disease but not at this age. And, in truth, he had never had his cholesterol checked. It was everyone’s surprise when he was found to have life threatening coronary disease. He was taken by ambulance directly from his cardiac catheterization to the nearest hospital for surgical intervention the following day. This was just the start of awareness journey for my dad and myself.
Awareness brought the understanding that heart disease is more than a heart attack. Awareness is knowing heart disease affects all parts of the circulatory system - the heart, arteries, veins, and brain - with diseases ranging from heart attack and stroke to high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Having awareness means knowing your risks by having a complete physical with labs before disease has taken hold.
Awareness is understanding that YOU have control over developing heart disease. Awareness is focusing on the risk factors YOU can control through the 4 lifestyle modifications including:
Awareness is giving yourself grace as you develop good habits in these areas. Failure happens but you keep trying. You know that small steps in the right direction will take you away from developing heart disease whereas small steps in the wrong direction take you towards it. Awareness is keeping at this journey because it is worth it. Awareness is understanding that what you do now will not only affect you future self but also affect all that you love.
Because that is what it comes down to, DreamChasers. Bob did not get a second chance, and my dad did. My dad only lived because he received awareness from Bob. Because of this, my dad got to live his life, a life that was cut too short for his best friend. My dad got to see high school sports, high school gradations, college graduations. He got to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. He got to take his son to his first Navy post. He has become a grandfather to four grandsons and one granddaughter. He has traveled. He has celebrated almost 50 years of marriage. He has lived life.
All because of awareness.
This, DreamChasers, is where the State of the Heart is. We lack awareness that heart disease is a real problem because we worry about getting diseases we can’t control, like cancer. The State of YOUR Heart is truly in YOUR hands. It starts with awareness. It starts today.
Erika Fehrenbach Prell is passionate about inspiring and educating, others on their path to complete wellness-mind,body, and soul. This desire led Erika to the helping profession of nursing, and she obtained her Master's Degree as a Nurse Practitioner in 2007. Erika specialized in cardiac surgery, largely influenced by her personal experience with heart disease. While she loved working with this population, her heart's desire has always been to impact lives on a larger scale and from a proactive, not reactive, place. The universe answered when her path crossed with Jackie and SoulShine was born. Erika finally feels she is walking in her purpose and is excited for this journey to unfold.