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Men’s Health Awareness and the Heart

Guest post by Julie Pepper Lim, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Meritage Medical Network

One thing women and men have in common—heart disease. Just as many women as men die from cardiovascular disease every year. In fact, it’s the number one killer of women in the United States. That said, approximately 392,000 men die from cardiovascular disease each year and it’s the most common cause of death for men in the USA.

June is Men’s Health Month. Most people have at least one man in their life that they love. Even if it’s not your husband, or lover, it might be your son, your brother, dad, yourself, etc. June is the month to focus on your men.

In May, Meritage focused on physical fitness and sports for National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. We were deep into our fitness challenge through the Atlas app, raising money for Operation Access, a non-profit that performs vital surgery and specialty care for people who can’t afford it. We continued our weekly walks and brought CX-Worx on premises for some circuit/cardio training, we did a couple of sponsorship events that included a steep uphill hike and a 5K, 10K and Half Marathon, all of which really got our hearts going.

When I was a kid, the image in my mind of the heart was exactly like the valentine heart. By the time I found out that the actual heart was made up of atria and ventricles with walls made of layers of tissue, I was kind of disillusioned. Why on earth did everything and everyone direct me to believe the heart was like a little piece of candy with a sweet message on it?

Now, when I look at some of what makes up the walls of the heart, it kind of makes sense to me that we often conflate the heart with love, so much so, it’s hard to separate the clinical heart and the one that is linked to love and heartache.

The epicardium is the protective layer mostly made of connective tissue.

The myocardium is the muscles of the heart.

The endocardium lines the inside of the heart and protects the valves and chambers.

These layers are covered in a thin protective coating called the pericardium.

So, we’ve got the connective tissue, important in all relationships connecting us, the muscles—useful to keep those fit and strong to sustain a good relationship, and protection—something we all utilize, even when we fight our best fight to avoid hardening, blockage and breakage—that protective layer is critical in love and life.

My dad is 90 years old. He played tennis almost every day for most of his life after he retired from teaching. As it turns out, something I also didn’t know as a kid is that when you age, you start getting lots of things that a younger person would be better equipped to handle. My dad got plaque on his heart. He was having trouble breathing and could barely walk a block without feeling like he couldn’t make it the rest of the way. At 90, surgery is not generally recommended. His medical team gave him the options which were a bit complicated and might not make a difference or were high risk. The thing is my dad really wanted to get back out on the tennis court. If ever a person was extremely motivated, he was that person. So, he opted for not one surgery, but two. One to get a pacemaker put in, which he would need to survive, the other, which was to get his heart valve replaced.  We didn’t know if he’d make it through either surgery and many of us were encouraging him not to do it. I wasn’t one of the many because the only thing I knew about my dad’s heart was I loved it. It was a thoughtful, loving, caring, strong, smart, heart beating 100,000 times a day, pushing 5,000 gallons of blood through it every 24 hours, or at least it was when it was healthy and I wanted it to go on doing that for a long time and if surgery could make that happen, and he was willing to take the risk, well then so was I.

It was touch and go for a bit there, but my dad and his powerful heart pulled through. This was one of those cases where it was easy to see how, or why, we conflate the clinical heart with the one we associate with love.

It took a while, but my dad has gotten back on the tennis court. I know he wishes he could just stay out there all day long, but there are other things, some of the ones I referenced, earlier, (about when you age and start getting a lot of things,) that keep him from pounding away at the tennis ball, all day long.

Still, he walks around the block on most days, and he’s started lifting some light weights to keep building his muscular strength. He talks with me every day and shares meaningful ideas, political opinions and sound advice. I hope we can continue to talk like this for as long a time as he still feels good. I’m glad my dad was in touch with his heart enough to know what to do when it was failing him.

We all have men in our lives that we love, or care about, that we can focus on in June.

Are they on medication—are they taking it properly and does it continue to be the right medication? Are there side effects that we should be having a closer look at? Are they getting enough exercise, or too much? Are they eating too much sugar, GMOs, pesticides? Are they smoking, drinking too much, not taking enough time away from work? Are they doing what they love at least a couple of times a week?

Heart disease is a potential problem for all of us. For June’s Men’s Health Month, let’s conflate our clinical hearts and the ones we love with, giving our whole hearts to men’s health.

Julie Pepper Lim works in the Network Relations department of Meritage Medical Network in Marketing and Communications. She is a published fiction author, essayist, short story writer, playwright and a strong believer in story’s power to transcend.