Will I Outlive my Parents?

I do not really enjoy running; I never have.  Sure, there are aspects of running that I enjoy such as the beauty of nature, the solitude and the camaraderie.  But the act of running itself, not all that much. Running has, for the most part, been a means to an end, outliving my parents.

My parents died very young.  My mother died in 1986 at the age of 41.  She appeared to be very healthy, always well, exercised and was not overweight.  She died of some yet unknown heart ailment while taking a shower.

Whereas, my father was diagnosed with atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, when I was very young.  I recall a time when my father and I were supposed to play catch one sunny summer afternoon and he began to cry.  He said, and I will never forget these words, ‘it is every father’s dream to play baseball with their first born son and I will never be able to do that with you…’  These were very hard words for a 10 year old to fully comprehend.  Over the years, I would watch my father continue to decline and go through bottles of nitroglycerin pills, nitroglycerin pills are used to dilate the arteries and help offset or stay a heart attack and/or angina pain.  My father used to walk a 1/2 mile before needing to stop and rest and maybe take a nitroglycerin pill, to towards the end, having to stop and rest and take multiple nitroglycerin pills only after walking 20 or 30 feet.

My father died of a massive heart attack outside the back of the house while using a hoe to remove weeds in 1989.  My father was 47 years old.

This year I will turn 50; I will outlive my parents. But by how many years? That thought is never far from my mind.

As a result of the unexpected death of my mother and watching the mental and physical decline experienced by my father, I started to run.  It was this continuous observation of my Father’s pain and increased understanding of heart health that led me to begin running my freshman year of college, 1983, at University of Kentucky.  That first semester I discovered a group of guys who liked to run.  We would get up at 5 am run 4 or 5 miles, shower and hit the breakfast lines!  It is funny, looking back at how much you can eat at that age, not to mention how much alcohol you can drink, but I digress.  This was a ritual that I continued, more or less, through my years attending graduate school at  Louisiana State University and beyond.

Skipping ahead a few years, I continued this routine of pounding the pavement, not getting up at 5 am mind you, but running 4 – 10 miles a days three to five days a week for about 25 years.  I would run the occasional 5K or half marathon, but nothing more.  For me, running was a way to help prevent the early onset of heart trouble and not something that I necessarily enjoyed.  From the beginning, I never appreciated road running and/or racing.  I found road running to be, well, boring.  As an aside, I could never quite square that I was running to improve and/or maintain my health well at the same time inhaling carcinogenic car exhaust?!?!.

Fast forward to 2004.  I am now 39 years old and have been taking statins, drugs used to control cholesterol levels, for nearly 6 years.  Although, my cholesterol was always within the ‘normal’ range my cardiologist felt that because of my family history that I should take all necessary steps to reduce plaque build-up in my arteries.  It was this year that my cardiologist suggested that I undergo a relatively new, non-invasive, technology, Electron Bean Tomography (EBT).  EBT, also known as Ultra Fast CT Scan, was being used to quantify the amount of hardened plaque, calcium, in a persons arteries surrounding the heart.  Although, I was scared, I agreed to the procedure.  Within a week, I was presented with a wonderful surprise…..a calcium of ZERO and a diagnosis of ‘No identifiable atherosclerotic plaque. Very low cardiovascular disease risk.’  Happy days!

Since the EBT scan in 2004, I have undergone two Dynamic Stress Tests.  This, like the EBT is also a non-invasive procedure which is used to measure how well your heart muscle is working to pump blood to your body. It is mainly used to detect a decrease in blood flow to the heart from narrowing in the coronary arteries.  This procedure involves the patient walking then running on a treadmill that can reach a 40% incline!  Let me tell you, that is a ‘tough row to hoe’!  The tests performed in 2008 and 2012 concluded with a finding of ‘Adequate stress echocardiogram by the heart rate criteria.  High workload achieved.  Normal blood pressure response to exercise.  No ischemic ECG changes. Exercise was stopped due to target heart rate reached. No echocardiographic evidence of ischemia.’  Yay!  Happy times!

My days of testing will continue as will my days of running (or as my good friend, Frank Pagliaro says, power hikinig).  I am however, happy and at peace knowing that I am doing all that I can prevent the scourge of heart disease.  However, that fear is never far from my mind is provides my motivation. Let us be thankful of our health.  Let us enjoy each day.  And most importantly appreciate our friends and family.

Why do you run?

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