bob-harper1

I consider myself fairly fit. I run regularly, eat healthy, and my cholesterol numbers are the “ideal” ratio. While I know from my work at Illinois Heart &Lung Foundation that cardiac arrest can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, fitness level, or gender, I consider myself fairly immune from cardiac arrest happening to me.

Until this week when I read that fitness guru and healthy lifestyle advocate, Bob Harper, had a heart attack at the age of 51. What?!? I have some Bob Harper fitness DVDs- this man is in really (I mean really) good shape. How could this happen? He’s a vegetarian no less. According to reports, Bob was working out at a New York City gym when he went into cardiac arrest. Thanks to CPR performed by a physician who was there working out and the use of a defibrillator (AEDs are so important to survival), Bob survived and is recovering.

So how did this happen? Apparently, it is not as uncommon as you might think. Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the United States, and about 735,000 Americans suffer heart attacks each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not all those people have obvious risk factors. But Harper suggested he has at least one: his mother died of a heart attack, NBC’s Today reported. That kind of family history can increase risk, according to the American Heart Association.

Prediman K. Shah, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles says many young heart attack patients recall no warning signs and have never been properly screened for the most common underlying cause, coronary artery disease. That’s a build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances in arteries, and it can happen even in people who look and feel healthy, Shah says. A strong family history – especially heart disease in a father before age 50 or a mother before age 60 – is a good reason to ask your doctor about screening tests, he says.

And everyone should know their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, as well as the warning signs of heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure and unusual shortness of breath. For the full article on Bob Harper and heart disease click here.

Hypertension is also another contributing factor to heart disease. In fact, it is so prevalent in our society it is called the “silent killer.”

So why does this hit so close to home for me? My mom had a heart attack in 2013- her main coronary artery was 98 percent blocked. She also has a long history of significant hypertension. Did I also mention that her mother (my maternal grandmother) died of a massive heart attack in her early 70s?

In other words, cardiac arrest CAN happen to me. My odds are higher than the general population due to family history. I can run, workout, eat right, and reduce stress, but it is imperative that I know my numbers. Every year.

I am using Bob’s wake up call as my wake up call. I am not immune to cardiac arrest. Neither are you. But together we can advocate for our health, make sure we are trained to administer CPR and use and AED during a cardiac emergency, and encourage our friends and families to do the same.

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