My unexpected journey toward heart health.

The routine has become familiar. I park my car outside Boone Hospital’s Broadway Medical Plaza and take the elevator to the third floor. As I walk into the Missouri Heart Center, I immediately feel awkward. I glance around, noticing the usual gray hair, walking aids, and even an oxygen tank or two. I feel as though everyone in the room is staring.

I am alone. And out of place. After all, what is a young lady (relatively speaking) like myself doing in a place like this?

I stride up to the reception desk and sign in for my annual appointment with Dr. James Fairlamb, a specialist in cardiovascular disease, including lipidology and high blood pressure.

As I sit in the waiting room, I reflect back on what brought me here — not one, but two cases of preeclampsia during pregnancy. It’s supposedly a rare occurrence. It was even more rare that my blood pressure remained high after delivery. So, at age 26, mother to two young boys, I found myself taking a small pink pill every morning to keep my numbers in check.

Fast-forward several years to my annual check-ups that consistently showed irregular numbers in my blood work. I was plagued with both high cholesterol and high triglycerides, issues that wouldn’t budge with changes in diet or increased exercise. After years of failed attempts, including work with a dietician, my doctor suggested I see a specialist.

Sure enough, after a specialized panel of tests, Dr. Fairlamb determined I had a genetic blood disorder — hyperlipidemia Type II B, which results in elevated fat levels in the blood. It’s a mouthful, I know, and pretty scary sounding.

“This isn’t a problem now,” he explained at first. “But if it goes untreated, you’re a prime target for a heart attack in your 50s.”

What? Heart attack? In my 50s? My grandfather died of a heart attack, but he was in his 70s. What was happening? I cried. The diagnosis meant two more pills. My fate was suddenly in the hands of three tiny objects that I could fit in the palm of my hand.

Thankfully, my numbers dropped and have stayed in the safe zone. I went from being high-risk to being a lower risk than most people walking around unaware of their heart health. Sweet.

My responsibility became remembering to take my medication and watching my weight. “Your job is to stay as skinny as possible” the doctor said (again, relatively speaking). Not so sweet, but doable.

A nurse calls my name and brings me back to the present. I follow her down the hallway to a room for my EKG. She also seems surprised to see me. Dr. Fairlamb comes in, gets out his stethoscope, and places it against my back. “Ah, I love the sound of a young heart,” he says with a smile. “I don’t get to hear this very often.”

And so I hope to stay — young at heart in more ways than one.

Don’t miss the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Luncheon on August 20 to help prevent heart disease and stroke.

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