How Mom’s Heart Attack Gave My Career New Purpose
By Rosa Coppolecchia, DO, MPH, FACP, FACPM
Director, U.S. Medical Affairs Cardiology, Consumer Health NA
Throughout my medical career and training, I saw the toll heart disease took on many individuals and families. Little did I know; heart disease would hit close to home for me when I lost my dear mother at the age of 73 from complications from a heart attack.
One of the risk factors for heart disease many people don’t realize is family history. I knew I had a strong family history of this disease with both my paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother suffering from debilitating strokes. This critical risk factor became all too real for me when a month after my dad passed away from a short illness and not heart related, my mom suffered a severe heart attack and had to spend several months in the ICU. Within six months, she passed away, succumbing to her illness. Now I was faced with the same devastation and loss experienced by many of the families and patients I treated.
As devastated as I was to lose both of my parents in less than a year, I knew I had to grieve but also move forward in a role where I could have an impact. While processing my loss, I decided to change careers. In my search, I saw an opportunity to join the Bayer medical affairs group and support the iconic Bayer® Aspirin brand. While I was excited to join such a great company, more importantly, this role would give me a voice to reach and help people understand heart disease and how to prevent it. Hopefully having this information would help others avoid the heartache I still feel from the void of losing my mom at an early age.
Despite advances in medicine, cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. Statistics show if you’ve already had a heart attack, there’s a 1 in 4 chance of having another one.[i] That’s why I’m proud to work on Bayer® Aspirin’s Hidden Risk campaign which helps people learn the hidden risk factors for a heart attack and what they can do to help prevent a cardiovascular event.
YourHiddenRisk.com is a great resource to learn more about your risk factors, but nothing can replace having an ongoing conversation with your healthcare provider. One of the risk factors that, in my experience, is the most surprising to many is family history.
It is so important to know your family history of heart disease. We can’t change our genetics, but we can improve our way of living.
The issue with family history is not so black and white. While family history indicates a genetic predisposition to a heart attack, it also means you may be genetically vulnerable to developing other contributing risk factors like high cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure — all of which can create a predisposition to diabetes, which increases the risk of heart disease. These things are important to know and work to understand with your healthcare provider.
If your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55, you are at higher risk of getting heart disease yourself.
If your mother or sister had a heart attack before age 65, you are also at higher risk.
When heart attack occurs in a relatively young family member, it’s important that all first-degree relatives get screened.
You can help prevent cardiovascular disease by taking these small steps[ii]
· Follow up regularly with your doctor to check on your blood pressure
· Monitor your cholesterol levels
· Watch your blood sugars if you are a diabetic
· Exercise several times a week
· Eat smart
· If you smoke, stop smoking
· Take your medications regularly as directed by your healthcare provider
Making these lifestyle changes can help us live longer and have a more active life at any age.
Above all, know your family history. Knowledge is power! I try to practice what I preach. I eat right with a diet low in saturated fats with lots of fruits and vegetables. I also exercise three to four times a week and see my doctor for regular check-ups.
Don’t forget… Talk to your healthcare provider and engage in the conversation so you can uncover your hidden risks and do all you can to avoid a cardiovascular event.