I first became aware of health and it’s importance in 1979 when my father, at age 38, was flown to the Texas Heart Institute for a triple bypass open-heart surgery.
He was the epitome of what not to do…he was overweight, never exercised, smoked two packs a day, had high cholesterol, drank alcohol daily, in addition to his six or seven cups of coffee, ate a diet high in fat and processed food and had a top notch stressful job where tension was high.
These factors alone should have provided signs, and there were some. There is a quote that states “…while modern man is frequently observed to be an eternal optimist in matters of his own health, he is also recognized as a procrastinator.”
In my father’s case, these tendencies toward optimism and procrastination nearly proved fatal.
Events had moved quickly after a Red Cross volunteer refused to let him donate blood during a General Motors blood drive. The volunteer indicated that his heartbeat was quite irregular and suggested he see a doctor.
Days later he was flown from our home in a suburb of Detroit to the Texas Heart Institute. I sat in eight grade science class while my father went under the knife of the world famous surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley, who told him there was a 25-30% chance he’d die the next day.
Thankfully he did not die the next day. He survived and took the experience as a warning, changed his habits, made this health a priority. He wrote about his experience (that is his quote referenced above) in an article entitled “Take Time to Smell the Flowers.“
But like many best laid plans and earnest intentions, old habits crept back in and he died of a heart attack in 1993, two weeks after his 52nd birthday. He was on the dance floor at a church St. Patrick’s Day party. No doubt he was probably representing the Irish side of his heritage with a frosty beer and perhaps a jig. I imagine it to be the kind of setting he’d have chosen for the occasion, though probably not the timing.
His life has been an example to me in many ways and has shaped me to be the person I am today. I have his joyful spirit, his love of travel, and his desire to write. He has also left me with the indelible and fierce need to make health a priority, and to not be a ‘procrastinator’ as he so prolifically wrote decades ago.
My father left many legacies, and this one, the one where YOU CAN make a difference in the quality (and maybe even quantity) of your health and your life, is the one that drives me today.
This week we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of his passing. I will celebrate it in the best way I know how, by living passionately and fully, just as he did.