A Battle Against Heart Disease
[Editor’s Note: Mary Pointer Blankenship, senior vice president at Republic Bank & Trust, is serving as the 2018 Go Red for Women chair, a program of the American Heart Association whose mission is to encourage women and their families to take action and live a healthier life. February is National Heart Month.]
When I was 9 years old, I vividly remember standing in the hallway of our home listening as my mother answered the phone and learned that my father had died of a heart attack. He was just 43.
Heart disease was rampant in my family. My grandmother, who was a Cherokee native, died of a heart attack, and my grandfather suffered a stroke at 43 that left him partially paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair for 50 years until his death. Years later, my half-brother would also die of a heart attack, interestingly, also at the age of 43.
In the wake of my father’s death, at the age of 9, I began putting the pieces together, and I came to the realization that I didn’t want to follow the same path. I had watched as my father ignored signs and symptoms of heart disease. He had amazing metabolism and would eat a pound of bacon in a sitting. I can remember an instance when he ate an entire cake by himself. I decided that my story would be different because I didn’t want my family to receive that phone call about me someday. I was going to live a healthy lifestyle, eat healthy and exercise. I refused to follow the same path that had plagued my family for years.
My heart story is one of prevention. It’s one of identifying steps that I could take to ensure a longer, healthier life for me and my family. My children, now in their 30s, eat healthy and make healthy choices because of the lifestyle in which they grew up. As women, we have the ability to establish a new legacy for our families. Just because our parents and grandparents suffered at the hands of heart disease does not mean that the suffering must continue.
My hope is that I can encourage other women—men, too—to join me in the prevention of heart disease by eating healthy and exercising regularly. We all lead very busy lives. Business is often done over lunch and there’s little time for meal planning but if we make it a priority to order the healthier options and make time for physical activity then we don’t have to follow the same destiny that many of our parents and grandparents did.
I love Go Red for Women because it’s not simply a luncheon or a fundraiser, it’s a movement to change the trajectory of women’s lives across the country. We recognize that heart disease is our No. 1 killer, and we’re committed to making changes because no child should receive the phone call that I did at 9 years old.