My grandfather had heart surgery earlier this month. I did not tell many people, because quite honestly, I did not know much myself. Living abroad has that affect; in order not to fall into a vicious cycle of helplessness, I am kept out of the loop. As a result, I am forced to compartmentalize my feelings because I am not present enough to step into the crisis with those on the front lines -- in this case my father and his siblings. So I kept most of my thoughts to myself, reached out to some of you for specific prayers, and vented a bit to others. So, thanks.
Grandpa Joe had a pacemaker installed on his 95 year-old heart, and it got me thinking about how critical our hearts are to our vitality. My childhood friend, Daniel, lost his life in 2012 at age 23 due to an unforeseen heart condition... so I am keenly aware of the impact of an organ that we have very little control over sometimes. Some kids are born with heart defects and face challenges for their entire lives. Others eat foods that make their hearts have to work much harder than others, causing them to be in risk of early breakdown. And for many others, like Daniel, we are completely railroaded; caught off-guard by a heart that decides it is time to stop.
No one organ should have all this power. And yet, my fellow early-Kanye ethusiast... the heart does just that.
Because of its commanding presence in our daily lives, the heart is used as a symbol of the people we are both physically & spiritually.
Here are a few quotes you might recognize:
Follow your heart!
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! HEART!
Heart - broken 💔
Listen to your heart.
Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.
Okay, so you get the point. We put a lot of effort into managing and protecting our physical and spiritual hearts.
While my long-time friend, Janele, was going through the gauntlet that comes with treatment for her diagnosis of Hodgkins Lymphoma, she used her blog to talk about the process of her life-changing procedure after her inital chemotherapy sessions did not fully succeed. She went through a greuling journey both before and after her stem-cell transplant in November 2016. I recently asked Janele what doctors did to keep her heart pumping even though every other organ in her body was breaking down throughout the process of literally giving her a brand new immune system.
Janele & me in Brooklyn, 2 days before I left for the Peace Corps in May 2017
Before the stem-cell transplant, Janele had to receive an Echocardiogram, also known as a "Heart Ultrasound", where doctors evaluated her heart's function. Throughout her 25-day stay in the hospital throughout the transplant process, she received a medicine called heparin in order to reduce the risk of blood clots that could form during the treatment. Along with so many other procedures, Janele said that without a heart in excellent condition, the stem-cell transplant could have been much more difficult and even higher risk. Her healthy heart has been a central part of her healing journey from cancer, and we celebrate that healing today.
My grandfather, Daniel and Janele are not alone. As part of our Community Assessment Tool (CAT), I pulled publicly available data from the Ministry of Public Health to discuss the major problems affecting health in my town, and found that 50% of the top 10 causes of death in 2016 were linked to some form of heart failure. In the United States, heart failure is the leading cause of death for women, but, according to the American Heart Association, only 1/5 women believe it is her greatest health threat. Heart issues are global and they affect all of us in profound ways.
So how's your heart? Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?
I have been asking myself these questions for the past few weeks, and will have to continue to check-in as time progresses. I've got to keep exercising, eating healthier, and getting more rest while removing stress factors and instead surrounding myself with people who bring positivity and joy into my life daily. Protecting my heart requires a full-court press... and I'd like to win.