When you’re the adult child of a heart patient

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

My Dad died of cancer at age 62, my mother decades later from a stroke following years of increasing dementia. So I have some experience being the adult daughter of a parent diagnosed with a life-altering medical condition.  And I’ve also seen the faces of my own grown children right after they flew home to be with me right after my heart attack.  Honestly, I don’t know which felt worse . . .

The majority of heart patients in North America have adult children.  And when heart disease strikes, it can affect not only the patient, but the immediate family of that patient.  If one of your parents has a cardiac event, as psychologist Dr. Wayne Sotile warns, you might have the makings of what he calls “the best hidden victims of heart illness: the patient’s adult children”.  Continue reading “When you’re the adult child of a heart patient”

Living with heart disease – and your whole family

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

For more than 30 years, Dr. Wayne Sotile was the director of psychological services for Wake Forest University’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program. Which is to say that he’s spent a lot of time talking and listening to heart patients and their families. In 2008, while recuperating from my own heart attack, I discovered his must-read book called Thriving With Heart Disease.*  That title, by the way, has always bugged my Alaskan friend Dr. Stephen Parker (a cardiac psychologist and himself a heart attack survivor) who once made this comment about the book’s title:

“Just as soon as I can gather myself together, I am planning on writing a book called ‘Thriving After I Lost All My Body Parts’…”

Despite that small quibble about the title, Dr. Sotile is a terrific writer who really nails it when it comes to guiding those who are freshly-diagnosed with a chronic and progressive condition like heart disease.  Another of his many books expands that guidance.  It recognizes that it’s often the patient’s entire family who need help coping with the stresses and changes brought on by a cardiac diagnosis. Such help, he claims, can actually be the key to recovering.   Continue reading “Living with heart disease – and your whole family”

Who will take care of you at home if you’re seriously ill?

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

It turns out that the hilarious British spoof on the horrors of the Man-Cold might be more true than we ever imagined. The joke reality here is that when a husband gets sick, his wife is naturally expected to become his doting caregiver, but when a wife gets sick, she may feel distinctly on her own.

A study presented last month at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America actually reported that the risk of divorce among married couples rises when the wife – but not the husband — becomes a heart patient.

Study author Dr. Amelia Karraker, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, examined how the onset of four serious illnesses – cancer, heart disease, lung disease and stroke – affected the marriages of couples over a 20-year period. Dr. Karraker explained:

“We found that women are doubly vulnerable to marital dissolution in the face of heart disease.

“They are more likely to be widowed, and if they are the ones who become ill, they are more likely to get divorced.”

Why is this?    Continue reading “Who will take care of you at home if you’re seriously ill?”

How having a wife shortens time to heart attack care

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

Help-by-LiminalMikeHere’s a news flash from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious . . .  Medical researchers tell us that married men suffering heart attack chest pain get to the hospital far quicker than single men do.  In my admittedly non-scientific opinion, this reality is entirely due to the fact that these married men have wives.

As Dr. Ralph Brindis, past president of the American College of Cardiology, once told a Wall Street Journal interviewer: 

“Thank God we have spouses. I can’t tell you how often, if it was left up to the patient, they never would have sought care.” 

According to one study, for example, a Canadian research team out of Toronto’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences found that the odds of men showing up at the hospital more than six hours after the onset of cardiac chest pain were a relative 65% lower in men who had spouses compared to their single male counterparts. (1)

In a spectacularly understated explanation for these findings, researchers reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

“We surmise that, in general, women may be more likely than men to take the role of caregiver and to advise their spouses to seek early medical assessment.”

This early medical assessment during a heart attack is crucially important, because we know that half of the deaths from a heart attack occur in the first 3-4 hours after cardiac symptoms begin. Now here’s the interesting – and utterly maddening – part of this surmising from the Canadian study: a similar association was not seen in married women.  In other words, being married did not mean that women were more likely than their single peers to seek faster help in mid-heart attack. Continue reading “How having a wife shortens time to heart attack care”

When being married makes being sick worse

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Research suggests that being happily married can have a big effect on helping us recover from serious health crises like a heart attack. For men, in fact, marriage doesn’t even have to be particularly happy to increase positive health outcomes. Just the mere state of being married, happily or miserably, apparently leads to better outcomes in males.

But not so for women. A study from the University of Utah, for example, tells us that after 15 years of follow-up, researchers found that 83% of happily wedded wives were still alive after their cardiac bypass surgery, versus only 28% of women in unhappy marriages.  They also found that women who report high levels of marital strain also report depression, high blood pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, obesity and other signs of metabolic syndrome – a cluster of known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. And in 2006, the American Journal of Cardiology published a study that found patients with both severe heart disease and poor marriages had a four times higher risk of dying over a four-year period.

So consider for example, how the day-to-day reality described by these heart patients might affect their prognoses:     Continue reading “When being married makes being sick worse”

Marriage triples our bypass surgery survival rates – but only if it’s happy

by Carolyn Thomas      @HeartSisters

While the recent headlines about this new cardiac study suggest that a happy marriage can triple (and even quadruple!) your longterm survival chances after heart bypass surgery, there’s more behind this story than the wedded bliss angle.

Researchers from the University of Rochester tell us that happily married people who undergo coronary bypass surgery are three times more likely to be alive 15 years later compared to their unmarried counterparts. For happily married women, those odds can actually jump to four times higher.

But buried in the good news hype is another important fact: that for women who do not rate their marriage as happy, survival stats are virtually identical to those for unmarried women.  Continue reading “Marriage triples our bypass surgery survival rates – but only if it’s happy”