In February we focus on women’s hearts. But this month isn’t just for me, it’s for my Dad too.
20 years ago I was in college in Ladysmith WI, I called home to talk to my Dad. My sister answered, she said “he’s sleeping.” I pleaded with her to wake him up so I could talk to him. She was persistent and uttered “Dad isn’t here, he’s in the hospital.” My heart sank and I hung up.
When I finally go through to my mom she told me it didn’t look good. His heart was sick. I took to my knees and prayed with every fiber I had. I asked God to spare my father’s life. At 19 I couldn’t imagine a world without my father. I needed him at my side to tell me that this to shall pass. My rock was fading and all we could do was fucking pray and wait.
When my dad arrived at Mayo he had a survival score of “zero.” His heart was beating so fast it just fluttered in his chest. Congestive Heart Failure and aortic fibrillation was to blame. The doctors prepared my Mama for the worst. She lied like all mothers do and told us he was going to be alright. I was a mess and couldn’t think straight in class. My body was in Wisconsin but my heart was in Minnesota.
Two weeks later that zero walked out of the front doors of Saint Mary’s and he never looked back. Today February marks his 15th survuvior anniversary. With every beat of his heart he steals time from the sandman and keeps death at bay. We know each day isn’t spoken for and that only the good lord knows if we will see the next sunrise. He lives with faith in his heart and appreciates every second of his borrowed time.
Borrowed years are a gift. My father has lived to see his daughter graduate from college, he was the proudest father in the arena. He walked his daughters down the isle and held me as I cried into his should on the day I found out my son had died. He’s picked up the pieces after our divorces and was the glue that our hearts needed. He stood by my side as I fought for my life and put his arm around me when we found out that I inherited his heart. I’ve watched him hold his second and third born grandchild for the very first time while morning the loss of his first, forth and fifth grandsons. He is the ultimate road trip companion and dinner buddy. As long as a ride is involved he’s game.
Borrowed time is all but rosy. My father looked on as doctors fought to save my life. Blood clots are no joke and strokes they are even worse. He taught me how to inject myself with blood thinners, “make sure you clean the area real good” he said. Little by Little I got stronger and I never looked back. My dad’s face lit up when he saw me on a billboard and in a TV commercial promoting heart health. He tearfully watched the video of my speech in DC, his surviving heart was so very proud. Those teary eyes looked on as I strutted down the runway and shared my story at the fashion show. All because his heart, it saved mine.
My father’s heart saved mine. If it weren’t for his broken heart I never would have gotten involved with the American Heart Association. If I hadn’t gotten involved I would never have learned that women have different symptoms than men and that cardiac events can happen at any age. In one moment I became the very surivivor I advocated for and I’ve never looked back.
Because of my father I am alive today. Because he lived, his heart saved mine. Because of his heart and the research they are conducting my future looks fucking bright. I’ve followed in my father’s footsteps, he was 50 when his heart gave out, I was 34 when I was diagnosed with stage one congestive Heart Failure and I am not afraid to tread down his path. For I know having high levels of C-reactive protein is no longer a death sentence, it allows us to go boldly into the night and wakeup to a beautiful painted sunrise.
A beautifully painted sunrise that my Dad prepared for me. For the past twenty years he has been a research patient at Mayo and oh have they learned so very much from him. Knowledge that wasn’t available twenty years ago is now extending my life and the lives of others. We know now that children of parents who had a sudden cardiac arrest may follow in their foot steps. When my Dad had us second in 2020 my cardiologist sat down and said “we need to plain for an internal cardiac defibrillator.” The plan is to have it implanted when I am 45, which is five years prior to the age my Dad had his first sudden cardiac arrest. I pray each day that this device is never needed but grateful to have the insurance policy under my skin.
February 8th is a celebration, a celebration of a life well lived on borrowed time. My Dad and I are thick as thieves. Many fathers have told me “when my daughters grow up I hope I can have the relationship with them like you have with your dad.” My Dad and I have a special bond. He knows me in and out. He’s seen me on my worst days and laughed with me on my best days. He believed in me when no one else did. He was that force that pushed me when I didn’t think I could go on. He knows how to center me and when to just let me be mad. We all know when I get mad I take down names and get fucking shit done. I can tell him my vision or a design element that I want and he says “yep,” and weeks later he’ll call “I have it drawn out” or “I think found what you wanted.” He gets me like no one else does.
The best gift I can give to him is a day well spent. Road trips are plenty, we may get lost but it’s on the roads less traveled that we find our best adventures. He’s not as spry as he once was, yet he does everything in his power to keep up with me. Whether it’s walking a trail or strolling through a flea market, he takes a break leans on his cane with a smile and says “go ahead Mannie, I’ll catchup.” I treasure these moments and the days for I know this season will not last. Each year he gets older as my mind settles on the fact that even though I want him to, my dad will not live forever. His heart had one job to do and that was to save mine, and save it, it did.
Here’s to twenty more years filled with laughter, good wine, adventure, and hopefully lord willing a grand baby that he will get to hold.