Is it just us, or has anyone else noticed something interesting about pharmaceutical commercials these days? They show a good-looking couple, middle-aged (whatever that is to the viewer) out having fun: bike riding, playing golf, playing with their child or grandchild, walking and holding hands in a romantic setting? (Maybe like this picture?) Then the commercial begins, “See your doctor about taking XYZ drug.” Then in fine print and a VERY low and fast voice, you are warned that this drug could cause paralysis, blindness, heart attack, or some other more serious cause of death? And then as soon as that is over, a law firm advertises: “If you have ever taken such and such drug and you have cancer, it’s been determined that drug caused the cancer and we will sue for $millions for YOU!” What’s with this?
Normally, we don’t watch commercials – we like to record whatever shows we watch and skip them. But we’ve been without our satellite TV, so have had to watch antennae TV – that means no recording so we have to endure commercials. And now we see this phenomenon! Hang with us, we’ll come back to this eventually!
So what do you know about heart disease? Sadly, we have lost a precious relative to it and we have had a few family members suffer heart attacks. But we never “researched” the topic until Bill was diagnosed with it on December 15, 2026. We didn’t think it was something that could happen to us as it’s not been in our family histories. (If it is in your family history, you may want to pay attention!) Both of our dads succumbed to cancer, so that has been our concern, but yet, we really only get “checked” via colonoscopies and see a dermatologist regularly. Our mom’s are both relatively healthy for their ages, Bill’s mom is 96 and my mom is 93. Let’s slowly learn a little:
Heart Disease Overview
Heart disease, such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and congenital heart disease, is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. Prevention includes quitting smoking, lowering cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising.
The heart is a VERY complex organ (click on the link above and you can learn more), but then so is are all of our organs! We’re only going to document our journey, not preach! We recommend you find the right medical practice to help answer your questions and guide you. We hope by sharing this, it helps someone else not go through what we went through.
Bill’s journey began much like most people. For him, it started in 2002 when he turned 50. I was subjected to yearly physical exams because of my job. I loved the doctors I saw through work and learned they also saw regular patients, not just our “group.” I felt Bill needed a check up when he turned 50. He never had a real physical, only a blood test when we got married he likes to joke. Up until then, he was “healthy” and VERY active, a work horse, literally. He felt great! We had built a house on a treed lot that needed thinning out. He would chop firewood for hours, stack the wood and took on other heavy duty jobs around the house (for one, built a huge deck) while working full-time.
What’s the first thing a new doctor wants to know about a patient? They want to look at your blood work! Had Bill known then what he was going to learn, he said he’d rather not know and just go about life, living it to the fullest. But then, what health disaster was waiting for him? And now that he finally had that health disaster at age 64, he wishes he had really paid attention to what the doctor and the literature tried to tell him. His blood work showed he had a bit of a problem: high cholesterol and triglycerides. But his blood pressure seemed ok, so really, all he needed was a statin.
We won’t share about how that doctor visit went, but let’s say, I was not invited in on future office visits with that doctor! OK, I know you want to know….so here it is: I pitched a fit! I asked, “Isn’t there something else he can do first????” I knew his diet wasn’t the best (he’s Irish and loves his meat and potatoes, preferably in the form of a hamburger with a side of french fries). And sweets, he always ate candy as a child and that continued.
When we first married, I wanted to be the perfect wife and cooked him whatever he wanted for dinner. When I would ask him, he’d generally reply, “a hamburger!” I began to joke I married Whimpy. But I learned quickly, you don’t tread on an Irishman. So I never (well, for a few decades) tried to “reform” him. Eventually, I accepted a job where I was subjected to thorough health and physical exams (which included patient education). I knew he didn’t exercise in a way to get his heart rate up for a sustained period of time for the benefit of his heart. You see, I was introduced to heart disease when I was 5 years old when I suffered from a mild case of Rheumatic Fever. I was told I could never exert my heart and had to take antibiotics the rest of my life. I guess a few things got drilled into my head. When I turned 18 and went away to college, I stopped going to the doctor, got into fitness and learned to eat heart healthy – although it wasn’t called that back in those days. And then I passed a stringent health and physical fitness exam for my job! So I never thought about my heart disease again….maybe I was cured?
Anyway, the doctor went on to lecture me about how absolutely beneficial statins are. It was a “miracle drug” and if doctors could have their way, they’d have it put in our water supply like fluoride! Well, we know how that experiment went with the fluoride treated water. So she prescribed the statin to him, gave him a brochure that said he needed to also eat a heart healthy diet and exercise. We were given a brochure – and sent on our merry way….
So our lives went back to normal. Bill did change a little bit, decided to eat more baked potatoes than french fries. Now let’s fast forward. When I began to gain weight after I retired in 2006, we changed our diets a little. In fact, we told everyone we ate healthy! But my weight went up and down as I struggled with a knee injury and couldn’t exercise. Then Bill finally began to gain weight and injured his lower back. The chiropractor did a food analysis for him because he said he couldn’t lose weight – extra weight affects the back. Turned out, he ate too high of a carbohydrates diet. I discovered the Mediterranean diet and lost the weight I needed, but Bill didn’t like the thought of eating vegetables and meat for breakfast. But he did reform a little. Said he’d only eat one hamburger a month! Eventually, I slipped off that diet in the interest of marital harmony….
Around 2008, Bill began to have heart palpitations (common as we age) and serious leg muscle aches (read the fine print of statins – a side effect). Our doctor referred him to a cardiologist in 2008. He aced all the heart tests: EKG, stress test and echo cardiagram, except the blood work. Still struggled with the cholesterol and triglycerides in spite of the statin. Long story short, he had to start taking a heart pill but couldn’t tolerate the statin. He and the cardiologist agreed to disagree about him taking a statin after they tried many different ones and low doses. He gave the doctor a choice, “Which pill do you want me to take?” Cardiologist said, “Heart pill.” But no patient education. You see, we recently learned doctors are not paid to provide dietary or exercise counseling. Although research shows, if the doctors would address it, that would serve as a good trigger point to help patients. So we went on our merry way as the medical community seemed to think he just needed better living with chemicals.
Another fast forward to August 2016. No real health problems for 8 years. We are now living full-time in a motor home and are traveling. Bill needs another prescription for his heart pill but doesn’t want to return to Sebring (our legal home base) to see the doctor. He did have to see him once a year for the prescription. We now spend 4-5 months a year (spread out) near our daughter, her husband and our grandchildren. We had started moving our health care up there (dentist and eye doc) so why not the cardiologist?
Here’s some good and bad news. The new cardiologist had to run him through his own tests and Bill passed everything with flying colors: EKG, stress test and echo cardiagram, except the blood work. BUT he said his previous cardiologist’s records showed he had hypertension. We said it had to be in error as that was NEVER discussed with us. The new cardiologist noted Bill was not on any medicine to treat it, but his medical records still reflect it. Actually, we also need a disclaimer here, not one doctor ever addressed the triglycerides, we just noticed them as being “high” on his lab reports. Bill was concerned about diabetes as his dad was a borderline diabetic, but it never was addressed by the doctor. The good news was that Bill no longer needed the heart medicine, so this doc said let’s start back on statins. OH NO!!!!
We do believe in small miracles, although we have had some big ones in our lives (read here for my main miracle and here for our marriage miracle if you don’t know about them). Well, we had a small miracle. An angel (a healthcare practitioner that we need to protect the identity of) whispered to Bill, “Perhaps you should ask your cardiologist for a heart scan with a calcium score.” That’s all I needed to hear, so the research began:
A cardiac CT scan for coronary calcium is a non-invasive way of obtaining information about the presence, location and extent of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries—the vessels that supply oxygen-containing blood to the heart muscle. Calcified plaque results when there is a build-up of fat and other substances under the inner layer of the artery. This material can calcify which signals the presence of atherosclerosis, a disease of the vessel wall, also called coronary artery disease (CAD). People with this disease have an increased risk for heart attacks. In addition, over time, progression of plaque build up (CAD) can narrow the arteries or even close off blood flow to the heart. The result may be chest pain, sometimes called “angina,” or a heart attack.
Because calcium is a marker of CAD, the amount of calcium detected on a cardiac CT scan is a helpful prognostic tool. The findings on cardiac CT are expressed as a calcium score. Another name for this test is coronary artery calcium scoring. (Click here for the website)
We made an appointment to further discuss Bill’s health for November, when we would return. Off we went to Myrtle Beach for what we had hoped would be a two month “vacation” at the beach – our favorite place in the three plus years we have been traveling (click here if you missed reading about how Hurricane Matthew interrupted this “vacation”). We weren’t too anxious to return to this cardiologist but yet, we thought he did a great job – figured out Bill no longer needed the heart med! We had a new mission while at the beach. You see, Bill was weighed in for his appointment. While he knew had had put on a bit of weight, the scales didn’t lie, it was more than 10 pounds. We decided for our two months, in between doctor visits, we worked hard to lose weight. We walked for miles and ate lots of home made soup! That should do it, right? Wrong, he gained two pounds instead of losing 10! And me, I was in the same boat.
Sadly, our visit didn’t go very well either, but we did get a script for the heart CAT scan. We hoped that would help convince Bill either he needed a statin or didn’t. You see, his mom and dad had high cholesterol. And neither had heart disease or any heart problems. But this doctor felt he needed it. But the cardiologist didn’t mention his weight, technically over weight by about 20 pounds, nor did he ask if he was on a heart healthy diet, nor ask about his exercise. If he had, Bill would have said, yes we eat healthy and we walked five miles nearly every day we were in Myrtle Beach!
The day arrived for the CAT scan, December 15, 2016. We were there bright and early. We liked the receptionist who greeted us and the waiting room was comfortable. They offered snacks and water while you waited. Bill was called back, had the scan and then I joined him. We were asked to wait in another waiting room. Seemed reasonable – want to make sure the scan came out right, right? Well, we waited and waited, then began to get uncomfortable….
Finally, we were escorted to a little room with a big computer to meet the radiologist and an assistant. We exchanged pleasantries, but I commented, maybe it’s not so nice to meet him. He confirmed my suspicions, he had bad news. The results showed Bill was a high risk of a massive heart attack or possibly heart disease. WOW!
We were then asked to go with the assistant as they didn’t want us to leave the premises without talking to Bill’s cardiologist. Again, WOW!
Mentally, Bill felt hopeless. My heart ached for him. It was such a shock. We only wanted to know if he needed a statin and now he’s felt he was given a death sentence!
We happened to know contacting his cardiologist wasn’t going to go very well as we knew this day was his last day before an extended vacation. And it went worse than we thought. To not belabor a very bad situation, the bottom line was the Radiology lab ended up finding us a new cardiologist. But in the meantime, we had to wait a week.
Thankfully, Bill’s brother and his wife are both in the health care field and are very experienced with this issue. They knew about the test, so they wanted the results. They live states away, but thankfully, only a phone call away. They began to mentor us. First, they are strong Christians and helped us in our divorce and remarriage by their prayers and counsel. So everything was bathed in prayer. They gave us some great tips and suggestions while Bill had to make a decision.
Bill either had to accept or reject the diagnosis. Would he decide to do what he had to do to turn this sinking ship around? Was there hope? The radiologist said his condition couldn’t be reversed. But his brother and wife were more encouraging….but they weren’t MDs. But we knew of their skills, talents, abilities and their life story. They were the perfect role models for us.
Stay tuned to learn more.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6