The Odds Are Against Me

All I have to do is look up my family tree to find plenty of incentives for fighting heart disease.   None of that crossed my mind initially when I signed up at work to participate in the KC Heart Walk next month.  I just thought it would be fun to walk with some coworkers.

But the more I thought about my inherited medical hodgepodge, the more concerned I became.  I decided to take a closer look here at my previous couple of generations of blood related ancestors to get a better picture of why staying active and eating healthy is the best prescription for the rest of my life.

My father and mother, both born in 1942, are both still alive and kicking.  In fact, you can’t keep my father out of the trees.  His hobby lately is helping a neighbor cut down trees and split it into firewood and stack it for drying, storage and eventual sale.  My mother started taking blood pressure medicine last year after a couple of scary trips to the E.R.

Grandma Juanita (1915-2005) and me at my high school graduation (May 1983)

My maternal grandmother died in June 2005, of congestive heart failure, but she still managed reached the age of ninety.  Granted, she needed bypass surgery for a decade before she died.  I spoke to my aunt Saturday and she also told me her mother was diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis before she died, which could have been treated with surgery (and a valve replacement) but Grandma didn’t want to have any surgery done.

I never met my maternal grandfather.  He was born in 1888 and died in the mid 50s … of a heart attack.

I did meet my maternal great-grandmother (in the late 60s or early 70s).  She was born in 1886 and died in February 1973 at the age of eighty-five.  According to my aunt, my great-grandmother passed very quickly, her body basically shutting down (not specifically heart related).

My mom was one of six children, three boys and three girls.  Her oldest sister passed away in 1987 of congestive heart failure at the age of fifty.  I’ll turn fifty in just a couple of years.

Her younger sister received bypass surgery (quintuple) in the fall of 2001 and is still doing very well eleven years later.  My Aunt Melody continues winning the battle against cardiovascular diseases, becoming a nearly daily regular at her local YMCA.

My aunt's wedding photo from the early 70s. Front row (left to right) my cousins Charles and Brandi, my brother Danny, my cousin Anne and me. Middle row (left to right) Aunt Hyla (1937-87), Grandma Juanita (1916-2005), my Mom. Back row (left to right) Uncle Harry and his wife, Rene, Groom Willard, Bride Melody (my aunt).

And that wraps up the maternal side of my genetic heritage.  Moving on to my father’s family …

My paternal grandmother died two years ago in June, also of congestive heart failure, but she passed very quickly within a week or two.  Up until a month before she died (at the age of eighty-eight), she had been living on her own in an apartment in an assisted living center.  I believe arthritis proved her greatest bane for the last few years of her life, but she did also fight the usual suspects (heart disease).

Grandma Doris (1922-2010) and Grandpa Ralph (1920-1992) with my brother (the baby) and I in the last 60s

My paternal grandfather (not shown in the above photograph) passed away in March of 2003, but his death was not specifically heart related.  He remained active in his community, as a Shriner and a musician, until the day he died.

Sitting on my Great-Grandfather Hodge's (1902-1975) knee for my first birthday. My cousin Toni peaking around behind me.

My great-grandfather, a much loved pastor in the small Kansas town where I grew up, died in the Summer of 1975, from a heart attack.   According to my dad, Grandpa Hodge wouldn’t admit he was having heart trouble; he kept insisting it was the flu, because he had been an athlete and stayed active most of his life.  Strangely, he died in the same hospital where I was born a decade earlier, in Winchester, Kansas.  Grandpa Hodge loomed large in the first decade of my life.  His passing devastated his church, the community and especially his family.

His first wife, Marie, passed away in 1949 of cancer.  She immigrated (during or shortly after World War I) from the town of Stallupönen, in East Prussia.


I am encouraged that many of my female ancestors made it successfully into or through their eighth decade.  If I can stay ahead of the genetics with healthy eating and living and regular exercise, I just might be around to annoy my great-grandkids over the next two or three decades.

I joined the American Heart Association‘s Heart Walk to promote physical activity to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, and to beat the odds I’ve been dealt by those who’ve gone before me.  Your support greatly appreciated.

Did you know that heart disease kills more people in America each year than any other disease? And that stroke is a leading cause of disability and the No. 4 killer?

Just 30 minutes a day of physical activity can lead to a stronger, healthier body. Take a small step toward better health by being physically active just 10 minutes 3 times per day.

Be Heart Healthy, American Heart Association