Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Education”

Poster Child For The American Heart Association

The caption for this photo may be a little hard to read, or even recognize. But this photo is a forty year old photo of me, in my senior year of high school. You just have to take my word for it, unless you can actually read the blurry print accompanying the photo, but it is me. The significance of this photo as it turns out, is pretty strong, especially if you believe in fate.

How many times have you been somewhere, and donations are being collected for a specific cause such as a homeless shelter, perhaps someone who lost a home in a fire, funeral expenses, anything really? Some may think that spare change or a few dollars will not make a difference and not put anything in, or perhaps they will. The truth is, you never know the impact it has on the benefactor. Unless someday, you end up in that situation yourself.

So, here is where the photo came from, my senior yearbook from high school. Forty years yesterday in fact, was to be a “jump rope-a-thon” to raise money for the American Heart Association. It was to take place that morning, from 9am to noon (basically two periods and my lunch time). Teams of up to six were to participate. Usually this event has a pretty good turnout.

And then, one parent became a killjoy, contacted the school district administration to complain about missing classes, and a district administrator then, put pressure on the coordinator at the high school to change the date and time from Friday to Saturday. Well, you guessed it. The fundraiser was cancelled due to lack of interest to be done on a Saturday morning.

I had been raised with the mentality to make a difference wherever I could. And though I was unaware of anyone in my family who had ever had to deal with heart disease in any form, I felt this was too important not to happen. So I approached the gym teacher and said that I would still like to do the “jump rope-a-thon,” solo (as my team was not available with the proposal I was about to make).

As it was my senior year, I had two study halls at the end of my day. Add an extra hour after school, I offered to jump rope, for the entire three hours as the event would have been conducted, that same day, only in the afternoon. Other than jumping rope in gym class, I have never trained or endured any extended time jumping rope. But I was a kid of 17 years of age. How hard could it be?

With a five minute break every half hour to either drink water, or use the bathroom, I completed the three hour challenge/fundraiser, raising $170. But that was $170 more than what the AHA was going to get thanks to the efforts of a whiny parent. Yes, I said that. Considering today that kids miss classes for all kinds of activities, even “tolerated” “skip” days. Yes, as a parent, I know about those as I have older teenagers.

Anyway, getting back to my effort, I did not give it any further thought. I felt good about what I did, and that it would at least benefit someone. As I got older, I would have relatives who would be diagnosed with heart disease. My grandmother would require a pacemaker. My father would suffer a major heart attack. I never forgot about that day that I jumped rope for three hours, grateful that hopefully my efforts helped research in treating cardiac patients.

Now for the kicker. I never expected to be one myself.

As a result from being treated with an extreme dose of radiation (4000 grays, you can look it up, that is bad) for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, combined with the toxicity of chemotherapy, damage to my heart developed over the next eighteen years.

This is a diagram my new doctor, a cardiologist, was using to explain what was happening to me. Cumulative damage from radiation therapy, over time, had caused enough scarring to block the left main artery to my heart. Though his note said 80-90% blocked, it was confirmed 90% once inside. This resulted in an emergency double bypass to save my life before having a heart attack referred to as a “widow maker.” I do not need to explain to you how serious that is, because the name speaks for itself. You die from this.

It would be nice, if that is where the story ended. The doctors left the one marked “RCA” alone, as it was “only” 30-40%, and expected my body to fix itself, with proper diet and exercise. Not shown here, is the report that also showed I had an issue with two, eventually three valves inside the heart. Again, they too would be assumed to recover on their own with a lifestyle change.

Unfortunately, there is no lifestyle change that can be made to reverse these late developing issues from radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Eleven years later, I would have my second heart surgery, which even looking at that word “second”, I could never have imagined having one, let alone another. Remember that “RCA”? Well, in 2019 it reached the 90% threshold. Fortunately, this was correctable with a stent.

You see, one thing about us Hodgkin’s survivors who have been exposed to the extreme treatments that we were, we carry extreme risks later in life, with corrective surgeries, especially open heart surgeries. One open heart surgery is risky enough, let alone a second one, with risks being bleeding to death, to difficulties healing.

A warning came along with this stent. One of those valves, discovered back in 2008, was nearing severe need to be replaced, likely to occur within years of having the stent replaced. And a couple years later, that valve needed to be replaced, my third heart surgery.

There are no guarantees how long each procedure will last, and as of right now, patients in my situation are not usually candidates for heart transplant because of all the risks. It is quite jarring to see the words “heart failure” written on your medical record, and only recently, were the words “radiation induced”, a crucial distinction and finally a recognition of a condition as a result of extreme levels of radiation exposures and toxic chemotherapies.

I would like to think that is the end of the story with my heart surgeries. I know that it will not. Part of the close surveillance that I am under, because it is important to follow up all of the repairs, that the bypass is still working, the stent is still open, and the valve operating as planned, these things are not permanent. Meaning? I am likely to undergo more heart procedures in the future. I do not know when, just that it will happen. The good news is my bypass is still doing great (I was told 10-15 years) as I am near my limit on that, with the bypass still holding at 40%! Stents and valves are not permanent, expectancy is usually ten years or less, I have a ways to go on both of those.

For now however, I am riding my new “feeling” of health for as long as I can.

Too Young To Be That Angry

Almost every year, I hear of a story from one of my daughters of a fight that has occurred in their school. Last year, one of those fights made national attention because of the claim of racism, as the fight involved girls pulling the hijab of one of the combatants.

The fight that occurred recently, did not have the racist undertones, but did have something in common with the fight from last year, the amount of force it took to break up the fights. The fight that occurred last year, as it appeared the security guards had controlled both participants, until one broke loose. It should be mentioned, the fighters were both female, and the guards were easily larger in stature. Nonetheless, one broke loose, and once restrained again, continued to exhibit such force, attempting to break loose to return to her target.

The recent fight, also involving females students, took four teachers to subdue the one combatant. FOUR!

Forget the fact, that clearly the school and district will likely hand out severe punishments, possibly either suspensions or even expulsion, pending investigations. Depending on the ages involved, and the type of situation, the law could become involved, resulting in charges.

While it is not uncommon for kids to have differing opinions, disagreements, and altercations, how is it possible for any student to possess so much hatred and anger, requiring four adults to restrain and prevent a student from attacking another? I truly do not understand this. Of course, the first look needs to be directed at the home as this level of animosity is not taught in schools.

I want to say that I have been lucky, not to have received a call that either of my daughters had been involved in a fight. It is not because they are not capable, I assure you they are. My oldest defended her nationality (being Asian) when a 2nd grade racist in training made a clearly racist off-the-cuff comment on the bus ride home from school. While I do wish she handled herself a bit better (she gave the kid a deserved bloody nose), she would later carry herself as she always had, minding her own business. So, while one daughter is very cerebral in confrontations, the other has a strategy of Batman’s Joker (literally will laugh at you while it happens). But they have been taught to accept differences, and most importantly, never to throw the first punch. Neither looks to be involved in any kind of drama. Like I said, I consider myself lucky, but clearly, their records are of their own doing.

Soon I will no longer hear these stories in another year or two. But sad to realize, things have not improved in schools to prevent this level of hatred and anger from exploding into uncontrollable rage in the near forty years I was last in school.

Another Lesson From Parent To Child

First word. First step. First day at school. Gasp, first date. Watching my daughters grow has been filled with all these wonderful memories. And I know there are many more to come. First job, check. First time behind the wheel of a car, check. But with one daughter now of adult age, and my other not far behind, it is now the next level of “firsts” that will have an even bigger impact on their lives, more than just memories for dear old Dad.

We all remember this scene from the Lion King, where Mufasa and his son Simba overlook Pride Rock as well as when Mufasa explains to Simba where to avoid. Mufasa explains to Simba, “one day, this will all be yours.” It is a turning point Simba, more responsibility, growing up.

It is Election Day where my daughters live. And that means today, will be my older daughter’s first experience voting. I am hoping, as I want it to be, a positive experience for her, one that she should look forward to, and value. I do not remember my first election. I am fairly sure it was a presidential one, likely in 1984. My record in voting until I became a parent, admittedly could be considered spotty, not really having any interest in local politics. Which when you think about it, local politics are just as important if not more so, than the national elections, as your local elections have an immediate impact on you, especially when it comes to your local taxes such as real estate and school district.

I helped my daughter to register to vote. Check.

She received her voter card. Check.

Next, and one of the most important steps, was teaching my daughter, the importance of being an informed voter. Over the last two decades, the foundations of my electoral opinions have been formed and solidified. I do not believe in a two party system, much like Constitution framer John Adams warned about. I do not want to be limited to an “all or nothing” system of support when it comes to my vote. I can agree to some things from each major party, and I definitely detest things from both parties. One thing is certain, there is no “blind faith” or support for each party. I will vote on issues that have an impact on me.

And as I spoke with my daughter about today’s election, I am encouraging her to think that same way. I am doing my best not to lead her to vote for the “lesser of the two evils,” which is how I cynically look at every election. Instead, I want her to be an informed voter. I have taught her how to get informed, and what exactly does “information” look like.

In her first election, is a major decision, for school board directors. There are two slates of candidates, incumbents (those who are currently on the school board), and challengers. Given each of their campaigns, my daughter’s selection should be simple (I want to stress, I have no idea who she will vote for, nor will I ask). Only campaign has spent its time discussing issues, explaining successes, and plans for the future. The other campaign, has offered nothing but smears, lies, incited others to come to board meetings to interrupt and distract from the duties of the school board, as seen many times all across the country. And oddly, during a televised debate, that campaign actually praised the board members, unintentionally I am sure, by acknowledging just how well the school district has done and is doing. But they have offered nothing as far as a platform.

I have told my daughter that it is important not to be distracted by all the craziness of slurs and smears. If she does not hear any issue or platform, there is none. Why would you vote for them then?

So with emphasizing the importance of being an educated voter, and not to follow any red laser dots, comes the big day itself. Clearly, trips to the election poll have changed in recent years and it is important that we get back to the way it used to be, with civility. As a voter, you have the right to cast your vote without being harassed and intimidated. That does not just include walking through the gauntlet of campaign officials on the way inside the poll as they reach out to you, handing you their “recommendations” that my daughter should vote for. I have told her that any interference preventing her from getting inside, or intimidating her, is to call the police and the FBI. Tactics like that are illegal.

No, the next challenge will come when she checks in to vote at her local polling location. She does not possess a drivers license yet, so all she has is her student ID. But as I said, she is a registered voter. Therefore, if she is given a hard time or denied the opportunity to vote, she is to ask and if necessary demand, a “provisional” ballot. This will at least allow her vote to be cast and counted, once election officials deal with whatever bug is up their collective asses with a legitimate voter.

I explained to her, how to operate the voting booth, making sure she finalizes everything by pressing the final button to submit.

And then finally, as she exits the poll, hold her head high for doing not just her civic duty, but something she is guaranteed by the Constitution, vote for her representation. This is how a democracy is supposed to work, not the way we have seen over the last year. It will likely not be known until the morning who the victors will be, and unless the votes are close enough, we accept the results. That is how it works.

Final lesson for my daughter, voting is her right, her choice. She does not need nor is required, to discuss who she votes for, EVER! In fact, it is incumbent upon her not to discuss her politics with others. Actually, this is a lesson I have explained to her as personal for her, just as any religion. To discuss her opinions and choices is to invite potential adversity that she does not want, need, or deserve in her life. It is enough, just to for her to know, that she made an informed decision count on days like today.

Another first completed from parent to child. Still so many more to come.

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