Meet HeartHawk: Your New Heart Health Consumer Advocate
The clock began ticking for me when I was 14 years old. It was a hot August day so my grandfather took me to the beach and even bought me TWO ice creams. That very night, he ate dinner, sat down to relax in his favorite easy chair, and promptly died of a heart attack at age 65. No pain, no clutching at the chest, no shortness of breath, just a sudden gulp of air and then death.
Twelve years later his son (my uncle), a strapping firefighter, had dinner, laid down on his couch, and died of a heart attack. Once again, a completely asymptomatic death. The ticking in my ear became louder. Two decades later my mother was at a party in Memphis. Later that evening, in a hotel room with her friends, she said "I feel dizzy." Those were the last words she spoke before collapsing from a massive heart attack. That night, the ticking became unbearable.
These people were all healthy, vibrant, and symptom-free one moment then dead the next. But, heck I was even healthier, never smoked, exercised vigorously 3-5 times per week (I'm a basketball junky), and ate pretty well. I had just come from the doctor who checked my cholesterol and administered a standard treadmill stress test. He told me, "I have seen 50 people today and your cholesterol is lower than ALL of them. You don't need any more tests. Go home and relax." But, just to be safe, I had a heart scan anyway and there it was - heart disease in two of my coronary arteries. It was not enough to be symptomatic but there nonetheless, silent and growing.
That first week was hell. I was afraid to do anything and could not find anyone to explain what the heart scan meant. My doctor told me not to worry, that anything there had been there for a while. I searched for the top cardiologist in the area and prevailed upon him to do a "nuclear stress test" the supposed gold-standard of non-invasive heart disease detection (needles, radioactivity, and lot's of expensive machines). The results were negative but I pressed the cardiologist to so SOMETHING. He finally gave me a prescription for Lipitor.
That's when I got mad. I thought, "These guys are quacks ready to lead me down the same path to slaughter as the rest of my family!" The heart scan says I have heart disease but the best docs say I have no problem. To top it off, they hand me a prescription to lower my cholesterol. What the heck are they telling me and do they even care!? My cholesterol is already really low. How could that be the source of my problem?
That was seven years ago. The real problem, then and now, is that there IS cutting edge technology to ferret out hidden heart disease, to detect causes far beyond simply cholesterol and, best of all, there are treatments (many are non-prescription) than can halt and even reverse the disease. But, much of the medical community is either too apathetic or too invested in fixing clogged arteries or selling one-size-fits-all prescriptions to get you the information you need to stop heart disease BEFORE the damage is done.
To fight back, I decided to become a "heart health consumer advocate" and began blogging under the pseudonym "HeartHawk." I am a no-nonsense numbers guy, an engineer, MBA, and for the real numbers geeks, a Six Sigma Black Belt (a quality improvement accreditation best described as "statistics on steroids"). I demand hard science and solid data to back up claims and theories. I am also a heart disease sufferer who watched under-diagnosed and under-treated heart disease take my mother, her brother, and their father. One minute they were alive and symptom free, the next they were dead. No good-byes, just gone. So, I resolved that I will die some other way. This blog is about my journey to save myself and others, unearthing advances and atrocities, separating hope from hype, and delivering the unvarnished truth about curing heart disease, both good and bad. So, hold on tight. I promise you a hell of a ride!
Looking out for your heart health,