It’s February! I don’t know about you, but that automatically makes me think of hearts and love. It’s Valentine’s month, of course! But did you also know that February is also National Heart Month? A month to promote awareness for the many factors that lead to heart disease and affect so many.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. But the good news is, with proper care and treatment, it’s preventable.
Heart disease has affected our family in a big way in the last year and a half.
Last Sunday we went out to a birthday lunch for James’ mom. She just turned 64 years old. We had balloons and cake and James got a big, fuzzy teddy bear as a gift from the kids so she has something to snuggle when she sleeps. It probably seems like a standard scenario to most people, and probably even looked like a standard scenario to outsiders at the restaurant. But a week later, my mother-in-law likely has no recollection of ever being out to lunch. In fact, she probably had no recollection of it happening when we walked out the door after lunch was finished.
At 64 years young, she lives in a nursing home and will be there indefinitely. She suffers from vascular dementia, caused by several damaging strokes over the years. She can’t quite remember what year she is in, doesn’t recall our names most of the time, gets mad because she thinks we never told her about Arlo since she has no previous memories of him and has to be reminded frequently that her husband and soulmate passed away over a decade ago when she asks to call him on the phone. It’s a very sad existence of confusion and anger and James is the most loyal son I’ve ever seen with his visits to see her, putting extra effort into finding her ‘nursing home approved’ shoes, because he knows she only likes boots and wants her to be happy, taking her snacks, like beef jerky, fully knowing she will put them in a drawer and forget they are there and just sitting with her in her room and holding her. He’s one of the only tangible things her memory has left. I mean, sure, she knows she KNOWS us when we are there, but it’s hard for her to place people, names and places. We do what we can and she loves seeing the kids. It’s just hard to get them there sometimes because they’re sick and that can affect the other residents, or the people there are sick and that can affect the kids.
She was first admitted to the hospital after her most recent bout of strokes the night before Thanksgiving of 2014. Our life was in an upheaval and her future and prognosis were completely unknown. By Christmas, there was no change and life was still in a constant state of chaos due to various life circumstances. James and I agreed to not buy each other Christmas gifts. But I snapped this photo that Thanksgiving weekend and caught a glimpse of a rare state of vulnerability in my usually rock-solid husband. A boy and his mama in a moment where they needed each other most. So while I mostly agreed with not buying each other gifts, I couldn’t help but frame this photo and place it under the tree at Christmas that year.
She goes through phases where she’s fine for awhile, then she will be emotional for awhile, then she will be angry for awhile and think people are out to get her or holding her prisoner. I can’t imagine the turmoil one must experience in living so confused all the time. She asks a lot of questions, usually the same questions, and you just go through the motions of answering them and trying to reassure her that everything is ok.
And she won’t get better. They’ve stopped all occupational therapy efforts, as they weren’t helping much since she couldn’t retain the information and her neurologist said her brain scan is the worst he’s seen in his entire career. This is her life now. (you can read more in-depth about how she came to be in the nursing home here)
But it was preventable. She has suffered from high blood pressure for many years and because of her fear of doctors and medical intervention, she mostly ignored it, sometimes trying to watch her diet to make a difference, but it wasn’t enough. She lived in confusion for so long that her house in complete disarray and we found an entire cabinet after the fact full of medications she never took. She also had a kidney problem that was treated via surgery about 6 or 7 years ago that should have been a wake up call, but wasn’t. I’m not telling you this to criticize or reprimand her, she made her decisions and it is what it is. We love her, regardless…I’m telling you this because it can be prevented by making simple life changes and maybe her story will help one person at least have their blood pressure checked.
I think, for me, heart disease is something that never crossed my mind until recently. When I think heart disease, I think of a failing heart that is on the brink of giving out and it’s so much more than that. Heart disease is a generalized grouping of various ailments that affect the heart. Strokes, High Blood Pressure, Congenital Heart Defects, Cardiac Arrest…these are just some of the things that can happen to a heart and can lead to death. A few simple things you can do to help prevent these things are regular blood pressure checks, forming healthy eating habits, exercise and not smoking.
Be good to your heart…
In honor of my mother-in-law Kathy, I’m wearing this heart charm on a red leather band from KEEP Collective, and I’d love to be able to make a donation to the American Heart Association in her name with my commissions made from the sales of this bracelet. Consider purchasing it for a family member, friend or colleague to tell them you love them. Have a heart and give a heart, we are only promised this very moment. Help me make a very important donation that means the world to my family and so many others, as the money goes to fund research on the disease that affects so many.
Click here to purchase this heart bracelet…$38 (plus tax and shipping)…and a portion of my commissions will go to the American Heart Association as a donation in my motherin-law’s name…