The Day I Received The Phone Call
My story isn’t much different than many others. Sometimes you can’t fight genetics. I knew I would receive a phone call from my mother that Dad had a heart attack. It was going to be bad.
My Grandfather died of a massive heart attack the year before I was born. He was in his early 60s. Dad’s sister, my beloved Aunt Lynn, died of a heart attack 10 years ago. She left behind her husband, 4 children, and an adored 2‑year-old granddaughter. She was 62.
My phone call was on January 17, 2017. I cried all the way to the hospital.
Could Advances in Medicine Help?
At age 67, Dad survived that day. His recovery involved heart surgery with two stints and a cardiac therapy program. With our family history, he was not taking a heart-health medication, commonly known as a statin. He did not eat a heart-healthy diet.
Why? Dad will tell you two reasons. “One, I can’t fight genetics and two, the medicine makes me sick.” Dad tried several statins that either made him feel like he had the flu or other awful symptoms that he decided to live his life and enjoy it rather than feel that bad.
Like most of us entering middle-age combined with family history, my doctor scheduled a cholesterol check for me. You can guess the results.
My triglycerides some of the highest my doctor had ever seen.
My Heart Health Story
My triglycerides were terribly high and my good cholesterol was terribly low. I was prescribed a very common statin. Within days of taking it, I felt so bad with flu-like symptoms and weak as a kitten. I called the doctor and tried another statin with the same result.
After trying 4 different medications with either bad side effects or no change in my cholesterol numbers, I gave up. Like Dad, I decided to accept my fate of knowing how and when I would die because the side effects of the medication hindered my quality of life too much.
Enter the innovative field of medicine called pharmacogenomics.
When I first learned about pharmacogenomics, I couldn’t help my curiosity. Could this be an answer? Maybe I don’t have to try a medication, but rather receive an easy report that shows how my unique genes will determine my body’s response? My pharmacist answered all of my questions and gave me a test kit. I used a simple cotton swab to gather some saliva from my cheek and sent it to the lab.
The report arrived and I admit, I was skeptical. I felt certain I knew what it would say. Sure enough, all kinds of red flags popped up for statins letting me know these categories are an issue with one wonderful exception.
A single category of statins had a green flag! I couldn’t believe it! At my next appointment, I showed my doctor the pharmacogenomics lab results from a portal on my cell phone. He was so impressed, he not only prescribed my new heart medication, he asked for more information about the program.
I am no longer hoping, but knowing my medication is working.
My heart health numbers have significantly improved and I’m no longer fighting genetics. Rather, I have an understanding of how medications are responding to my body. While no one can 100% guarantee I will not die of a heart attack, I do know I have a reason to eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise, and I have a solid plan to fight heart disease. My son will not be waiting for that phone call like I did.
By the way, Dad found a medication that works for him, also. We even have red meat on special occasions and celebrate every one of them together.
Happy 71st Birthday, Dad.