A Heart Month Reminder

My Dad and I, three years before he passed away.
My Dad and I, three years before he passed away.

The last memory I have of my father is a good one. He had a terrible sense of direction and couldn’t have found his way out of a shoebox. Every weekend my baby sister came home to visit from college, he would be tasked with driving her back to Hamilton, ON. from Guelph, and I was tasked with going with him so the big guy didn’t get lost.

It was one of those weekends.

A few years before this day had been upon us, my Dad, sister, and I were all in Hamilton visiting our older brother and his wife who had just had a set of twins. It was late in the evening before Dad and I packed up and headed for home, and both of us were hungry. Alone, in the dark, in a foreign (to us) city, we coasted up and down Main St. looking for something enticing. We passed a closed pancake house, but next to it was a restaurant that boasted the best pastrami and beef sandwiches. We stopped and proceeded to have the most delicious meal together. In the days and months that proceeded, my Dad and I bragged about this place to my sister and promised to go back when we were in town to drop her off next.

Two years passed, and in that time, we searched high and low for that restaurant, never finding it again. My sister thought we were both crazy. Dad blamed Hamilton’s one-way streets and I blamed his lack of thought to remember the restaurant’s name.

So here we sit, two years later, driving Lindsay home for the millionth time, and low and behold, we’re hungry again (I was seven months pregnant at the time, so the struggle was real). It doesn’t take long for Dad or I to turn to each other and say, “Let’s find the place.” With Lindsay navigating the one ways and me Googling every restaurant in the Hamilton area known for their sandwiches, we finally found it. As it turns out, while two heads are better than one, undoubtedly, three heads are better than two. We piled in and had another delicious family meal, our threesome complete with Lindsay.

With my kid sister tucked safely away in her Hammy home as she called it, Dad and I drove to Guelph in comfortable silence, every once in awhile pausing to turn up some good pickin’ on the radio. Dad remarked how it looked like it would finally snow that night and we both smiled, excited.

He dropped me off in my apartment parking lot and I playfully said, “See you next weekend, Dad. Love you.” To which he replied, “Yep, okay.” And I happily hopped out of the faded blue Dodge pickup, anticipating showing him my ultrasound photos after an appointment the next Saturday.

My father died Saturday morning, hours ahead of my ultrasound. No warning, no goodbyes. I didn’t even know he had left this earth until I was halfway home clutching photos of my unborn daughter, his granddaughter.

It hadn’t snowed that last weekend like he said it would, but as I drove to the funeral home on December 7, the little flakes danced across our hood while “Landslide” played on the radio. He gave me a blizzard that day.

My father died of Coronary Artery Disease, the most common form of heart disease. It is entirely preventable and even manageable when you have it, but it took him at 53 years young, without his knowledge.

I give this story to readers now, regardless of age, as a reminder that death does not discriminate; sometimes you don’t get to choose how you say goodbye to your loved ones. As I write this, I am sitting in a medical waiting room waiting to do an EKG on my heart. As someone with a father and grandfather who died of heart-related illnesses before the age of 70, I am at a huge risk for life cutting short on me. I urge anyone, regardless of age, to start the process of talking to health care providers on their own family histories. Ask your parents questions. Ask your grandparents questions. Ask your doctors questions.

It could mean the difference between living long enough to see your youngest child graduate college, watching your children have children, and achieving your dreams.

Weeks before his death, my father sat in this very clinic. He had strict orders from the same doctor to get an EKG after a high blood pressure reading during a routine check up. He hated doctors and public places, and upon seeing the long line, he left. That test could have saved his life. Would have saved his life.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Katie:

    I enjoyed reading your blog post. My Dad Brian died of a massive Heart attack on September 9, 2008. My Dad was riding his horse at a Reining competition at the Western Fair in London, Ontario. I live in Kingsville, Ontario near Windsor and my Mom called my oldest Brother Marshall at 8:30 p.m. to tell him our Dad was in the hospital. She didn’t say what happened. My Brother called me and my other Brother Ryan. We met at the 401 rest stop. My Sister-in-Law Kim, my 4 month old nephew my two Brothers and I drove to Victoria Hospital in London. As we were driving to London we didn’t know what to expect. We went to the hospital to see my Parents friends standing around the hallway. I saw Mom sitting in a room with couches. Mom said Dad had died. Dad was laying on a hospital table. The last time I saw my Dad was on the previous Friday when he was getting the horse trailer ready for the upcoming horse show. The viewing and funeral was the coming weekend. I was in disbelief the entire week and was hoping I would wake up from this bad dream. Sadly it wasn’t a dream.
    In 2011 my Mom had an Acute Stroke on September 3. It was on Labor Day weekend and we were at the Harrow Fair, our local annual agricultural fair. My Mom and I walked into the fair that evening and wanted to ride the Ferriss wheel together. We stopped and talked to people we knew along the way. We purchased our ride tickets and went to get in line. I was telling my Mom about an issue I had at the bank the day before. My Mom repeated the word annoyed 3 times. I wondered why she was saying that. Then I noticed she was falling into a snow fence that was near by. I didn’t have my cell phone and a lady near back handed me the phone to call my Aunt who lived near by. I told my Aunt Sandra I think Mom is having a stroke. It seemed like as soon as I hung up the phone my Aunt Sandra was right there. Two other ladies had 9-1-1 on the phone. I then called by Brother Marshall to meet us at the hospital. It seemed like time stood still while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. That was a long night. After we went home I went to my Brother’s house as I didn’t want to be alone that night. My Mom made a recovery. There has been a lot of advancement in Heart and Stroke research and treatment.
    I know waiting in a waiting room is not what we want to do but it will save a life. I am 29 years old and considered high risk because my Dad died at 58 and my Mom had an Acute stroke at 55. It is important to know family health history and talk to your doctor. Thank you for sharing your story. God bless you and may your Dad rest in enteral peace.

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    1. Stephanie,

      Your story has so many parallels to my own. My eyes welled up with tears just reading it. I am so happy that your mother made a speedy recovery. You’re right in knowing that waiting in that waiting room might save you. Thank you for sharing this with me. It is wonderful, and sad, to connect with someone else living the same thing. I wish the same and more for your Dad.

      Katie

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  2. Thank you Katie.
    I was glad to see that the Heart and Stroke Foundation shared your blog. That’s wonderful. Life is short and tomorrow is not guaranteed. Waiting is one thing I think everyone can agree on that we don’t like. But if it’s for our health to get a test done it’s worth it. In March 2007 my Dad had his gail bladder removed. I wonder if that surgery was really necessary when in September Dad had his massive heart attack. I’m sad my Dad is gone and not here. When I hear stories of survival I know the mission and research of the Heart and Stroke Foundation is helping to create more survivors. Even though our Dads aren’t with us, they are resting in peace until we see them again.

    Like

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