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As part of Men’s Health Week 2015 one man shares his story of how heart disease forever changed his life. Forcing him to fill his fathers shoes and inspiring him to lead a healthier life for the benefit of his own son.

It was a Wednesday, my father, mother and little brother were trying to figure out what to have for lunch. I was 180 miles away in college and attending my last set of classes before taking finals and finishing my first semester. When I returned from classes for the day, there were a bunch of messages on my answering machine. I started playing them and went about absent-mindedly unpacking my book bag and getting set up to study. The first message was from my mother, asking me to call her as soon as I got in. She sounded insistent, but I kept organizing things in my room and made a mental note to call her later. The next message — my mom again. She sounded even more insistent, so I called her back. When I called an unfamiliar voice answered the phone. “Who’s this? What’s going on?” I asked. The voice identified itself as a police officer and asked me to hold. My body tensed and I froze. Why was a cop answering my home phone? When my mom came on the line she told me that I had to come home because my father had suffered a heart attack. “Is he OK?” I asked. “You have to come home, Jeff,” she said. I started to explain about my finals. In my mind a heart attack was bad, but survivable if he was in stable condition. I thought if he was OK I could just leave on Friday. “Jeff, please,” my mom pleaded. “You have to come home now.” Her voice broke. What she had been desperately trying to hide came out: “He had a heart attack on the sofa and he died!”

Time stopped

My mind went blank and I tried to pretend that this wasn’t happening. “What? Dead? What do you mean…” I stammered, trying to reverse words I had just heard. I dropped the phone and went limp, falling to the floor. I could hear my mother screaming into the phone while I lay in the fetal position screaming. Money ran through my mind first. My father was the sole provider for our family. My mom was handicapped and my younger brother was only 10. I knew that I was going to have to step in, without even finishing college, to pick up the slack.

My father was 48 when he passed from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) brought on by arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). At 5’4″ he was a short, stout man whose beer belly had grown larger in his past few years. It didn’t stop him from being the gregarious person. He’d always eaten what he wanted — his love of fried foods was immense. Though he was a former boxer, I hadn’t seen him engage in any fitness-related activities in years and he had a heavy smoking habit. To top it off, he was averse to seeing a doctor for anything. It’s why his heart disease went undiagnosed. In fact, there were no indications that anything was wrong with him, except that he was getting older.

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