by Crissie Miller Kirby
My mother Sandy Miller is a heart disease survivor.
One summer day in 2004, my family hosted a party to celebrate my brother’s engagement. Everyone was laughing, talking and enjoying the evening. Then, things turned terrifying.
I was talking to my mom, then turned my back. I heard a commotion behind me and turned around to see my mom lying on the floor. My initial thought was that someone had been having a little too much fun and had accidentally knocked her on the floor. If only that were true.
As we tried to get my mother up, it was quickly evident that something much more serious was taking place. We called 911 and the paramedics arrived. I remember moving away from the crowd; there was nothing I could do because I had no medical training. Someone said that they were having a difficult time getting her to respond. I was absolutely terrified.
I’d been married for 4 years and my husband and I were beginning to talk about starting a family in the near future. I couldn’t imagine my mom not being around for that. That night, during that brief time, all of those plans flashed before my eyes. I was convinced I was going to lose my mom that night. I was 26 years old and my mom, only 54.
An ambulance took my mom to the hospital, where she regained consciousness. Nearly a week of tests revealed she needed a pacemaker implanted. All I could think of then was my Granny Edna, my mom’s mother, who had been gone for almost seven years.
I’ll never forget that mid-November day in 1997 as I sat in an 8:00 religion class at Columbia College when there was a knock on the classroom door. A staff member asked to take me out of class. Immediately, I knew something was wrong.
That knock on the door brought the news that my grandmother had succumbed to the congestive heart failure, degenerative heart disease and diabetes that had plagued her for years. As a small child, I remembered being taken to the hospital where my grandmother was recovering from having a pacemaker implanted. In all of my memories of her, she was never really able to get out of the house and play with her grandchildren. She taught us to love board games, made beautiful afghans that we all treasure to this day. She also loved The Price is Right and soap operas. But, I have very few memories of her outside her house, except to walk a little way to the car or maybe to a swing.
Would those be the same type of memories that my own unborn children would have with my own mother? Would she ever even know those potential children? As it turned out, I’m sure I worried too much. Mama had her pacemaker implanted and was home from the hospital within a day.
About six months after having her pacemaker implanted, my mom underwent major surgery to clip a brain aneurysm; one that was discovered because my dad took her to the hospital thinking that she was suffering from a heart-related illness.
These days, my mother is a 62-year-old retiree who, while suffering from short-term memory loss as a result of the aneurysm, delights in seeing her three grandsons any time she possibly can. She loves watching them play soccer and T-ball and attending school programs and other events.
As women, we often focus so much of our time and energy on taking care of others, often neglecting our own well-being. I know I have found this to be true in my own life. As a single mom to two young boys, I now focus the majority of my time and energy on my children. I cave to the ease of fast food restaurants and always seem to find excuses why I cannot get the exercise I know that I need.
My mom was always someone I admired: a woman who worked full-time, but still managed to get everything done. I’ve aspired to be like her; however, I don’t want to become a statistic or continue the family history of heart-related health problems. I don’t ever want my boys to sit in a hospital room or emergency room, wondering if I will ever meet their children.
Already, I know I am at risk for heart disease given my family history. Over the last few months, I’ve begun to take this risk a little more “to heart.” I’m looking at ways to change my lifestyle to accommodate being a little more “heart healthy.” Cooking and eating at home with my children has been the biggest recent change, along with giving up sugary, caffeinated drinks and sweet tea.
I’ve realized that I don’t know nearly enough about taking the best care I can of myself and my heart. I do know that my next step is to use to a Christmas gift I received – a one-year membership to the Lexington County Leisure Center. It was a gift given with love, from the heart, by my dad and my mom.