Studies show that CAD is developed during childhood and teenage years.
by Jon Patrick Hyde
Coronary artery disease begins in childhood, so that by the teenage years, there is evidence that plaques that will stay with us for life are formed in most people. Preventive measures instituted early are thought to have greater lifetime benefits. Healthy lifestyles will delay the progression of CAD, and there is hope that CAD can be regressed before it causes heart disease, said Edward A. Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., who is the Leon H. Charney Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and also of the Marc and Ruti Bell Vascular Biology and Disease Program at the NYU School of Medicine.

Without any scientific research regarding my specific case's variables I cannot say with 100% certainty that my survival of a Widowmaker heart attack with no discernable heart damage is solely due to the lifestyle choices I've made... but research supports my belief. 


Variables such as diet, exercise, stress, etc... are key factors in the progression of CAD, but they are not the sole contributors.  Genetics plays a greater role according the the American Heart Association, World Health Organization, and the American College of Cardiology. 

In my specific case I can't say that my childhood was stress free for it wasn't; but the stressors I endured are no more or less significant than those experienced by people who will never develop CAD.  There is research to support that people with obsessive (type-a) tendencies are more prone to heart disease.  This is because when stressed your body's blood pressure increases and over time this can have negative effects on vascular health.  People who live in a constant state of stress exert constant stress on their cardiovascular system and in time it can cause permanent damage. 

I can say that in the past 40 years our general understanding of what healthy nutrition is has improved overall in general society.  Yet obesity and nutrition related conditions are at an all-time high.  When I was growing up - and more specifically where I grew up - fried foods were so common they should have been considered a 5th food group; to many Southerners fried foods are in fact just that.  

In my specific diet I was very fortunate to have avoided several "habitual" dietary habits that have been shown in recent studies to be extremely unhealthy.  For instance I have never been a soft-drink/soda fan.  Growing up in Savannah, Georgia - one of the humidity capitals of the South, I just never felt that my thirst was quenched with sodas.  In fact I felt worse.  That much sugar is truly unhealthy.  I kept coolers of water in my refrigerator and when I came inside from riding my bike through the woods and I was thirsty I reached for some refrigerated water.  A habit I have kept to this day. 

In the past 20 years I've cut fried foods, junk food such as potato chips, candy bars, etc..., dairy such (milk, butter, creams), and certain meats (beef, pork, dark meat poultry, shellfish) completely out of my diet. 

Other risk factors such as smoking and alcohol use were things I also avoided as a teen.  I can look back and it's shocking to me now to think about how many of my friends in high school were using tobacco products and alcohol by the time we were 14 and 15 years old.  I avoided these traps too.  Smoking and excessive alcohol use are considered significant risk factors for CAD. 

The simple fact about my own history with CAD is that where there is smoke there must be fire... when I had my heart attack and was taken into the cardiac cath lab the story of my history with CAD was made clear.  My right coronary artery had been picking up the slack for my clogged left coronary artery for a long time.  Collateral arteries - or remodeled branches as they are called by medical professionals - are not grown overnight.  It takes years for them to develop.  This means that the stenosis (blockage) of my LAD must have happened much earlier in my life. 

When you take the time to dive into the mountain of research on the subject a consensus among researchers, doctors, surgeons, etc... appears.  In most cases where a young (under the age of 60), healthy (meaning healthy diet and lifestyle) person experiences an unexpected heart attack, heredity/genetics always plays the largest role. 

For me, I was shocked but then again I wasn't.  One of my father's brothers (my uncle) was one of the first early successful heart transplant recipients.  He was also one of the longest living heart transplant recipients.  He had a heart transplant in his early 40's.  Some of my earliest memories from childhood were of my grandfather's funeral - he died in his early 60's from CAD.  I remember seeing the scars on my grandmother's chest peek above her shirt from her triple bypass surgery (CABG - Coronary Artery Bypass Graft).  She would live 2 years past that surgery and die from heart failure in her early 60's.  These were my father's parents!  My father's oldest brother died from CAD while walking on a treadmill - in his mid 60's.  My father would have stents and heart surgery in his late 50's.  Heart disease and family members dying as a result of it has been a constant theme in my life. 

What I figured I was doing better than everyone who had come before me was I didn't smoke or drink (which truly my father didn't either), and I wasn't overweight from lack of regular exercise or an unhealthy diet (something my father was).  I honestly figured that I was on the smart side of my "family curse".  It's just known that the men in my family typically die young from heart disease. 

Here are some things to look for in your own family history:

  • IMMEDIATE FAMILY - This is your parents, their siblings (aunts & uncles), grandparents, and your siblings.  If any of these people suffer from CVD (Cardiovascular Disease) - which included high blood pressure, CAD, clotting issues (thrombosis), stroke, or birth related (congenital) heart conditions - you are potentially at greater risk for developing CVD yourself.

  • CHOLESTEROL - This is one risk factor that I had and was masked by my better than average physical condition and above average fitness level.  If you have borderline high cholesterol (Total Cholesterol from 200 to 239).  If your HDL is on the lower side of normal or is below (you want HDL to be a high number - think of the "H" in HDL as "Healthy").  If your LDL is on the high side of normal (you want LDL to be a low number - think of the "L" as "Low" - this is the "bad" cholesterol).  If your triglycerides are on the high side of normal or above normal.  These indicators when found together - borderline high total cholesterol, low HDL, high LDL, high triglycerides - in a fit and generally healthy person (doesn't have other risk factors) - is in itself a great cause for alarm.  This was me.  16% body fat.  Lean and fit.  Able to ride 100 miles on a bicycle at near professional energy output.  No smoking, drinking, or other significant risk factors... other than a significant family history.  I had a widowmaker heart attack at age 46.  Cholesterol was my smoking gun.  The fact that every blood test I've had my entire adult life has shown the exact same set of cholesterol reading also says that I was born to develop CAD.  It's in my genetics. 

  • DIABETES - Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic lower-limb amputations, and new cases of blindness among adults in the United States. Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is hereditary and therefore if anyone in your immediate family has diabetes you are at a greater risk for it.
  • ETHNICITY - African Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and Mexican Americans are all at higher risk for CVD and CAD. If you are a member of any of these groups, or like me - one of your parents is a member - you should be aware of the fact that environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle are not the primary indicator for the development of CVD and CAD. 
If you have any of the risk factors above you are at a much greater risk for developing CAD. 

I say "talk with your doctor" - but truly believe the best course for understanding any potential risks you may face should be discussed with a board certified cardiologist.  Cardiologists specialize in heart medicine and they are the most knowledgeable regarding risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment options for CVD/CAD. 

Do not risk putting this off.  To do so is to potentially exposure yourself to a life-threatening cardiovascular event such as I suffered.  I cannot stress how lucky I was; 9 out of 10 people who experience the SAME heart attack that I did do not survive. 
This website is not meant to diagnose or treat any medical condition nor is it meant to substitute or replace care provided by a qualified healthcare professional.  This information is provided for purely educational purposes and all information pertaining to your specific medical issues or concerns should be discussed with your doctor or a qualified healthcare professional.  If you are experiencing a medical emergency please contact the medical emergency services available at your location. 
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