The Apples and the Tree: Heart Disease Genetic?

Does the apple not fall far from the tree?

My brother Justin is 33 years old. He was born premature, blind, and with congenital heart defects. He had a hole in his heart, and a defective pulmonary valve. He had open heart surgery as an infant and they closed the hole with gortex, and replaced the defective pulmonary valve with a pigs valve. That was in 1978.  You can imagine how shell shocked my parents were. I was six years old at the time and I remember every dark moment of his birth like it was yesterday. As if the blindness and prematurity were not bad enough (my parents could hold him in the palm of their hand he was so tiny), the open heart surgeries were devastating. As the years passed he had open heart surgery every few years to increase the size of the pigs valve. Eventually he was given a homograft (human valve) which was experimental at the time. He overcame his blindness, became an amazing musician, and had more than a half dozen open heart surgeries by the time he graduated high school. I wasn't sure he would ever see that day due to all of the heart problems. On his 30th birthday we all sat in amazement; grateful for his presence. We looked forward to many more years with him, in spite of the question marks.

Reality has hit recently, as my mother was given some bad news at my brothers cardiologist check-up. She was very upset when I spoke with her and she told me that it was the only time in 33 years that my brother's cardiologist hugged her when they left the appointment. They came down to visit me this past weekend with and he is in bad shape. He's not a candidate for a transplant due to many factors including having developed diabetes a few years ago, which makes the situation bleak. Here's a link to the tribute video I made for him on his 30th birthday three years ago. 

I never thought I too would go under the knife for heart problems in my lifetime. There must be a genetic link somewhere, because outside of the heart issue I've been a specimen of health my entire life. When I was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm ready to blow, I was told that my brother's heart defects were congenital and not directly related to my condition. A congenital condition is one that develops not from the family history or genetics, but from influences which occur while the child is still in-utero. Here's a great link to an article on this.

Questioning the genetics of heart disease is certainly an important topic to entertain. In my case I am convinced that genetics played some type of role in my condition. I investigated my family history and found plenty of cases of heart disease, including my paternal grandmother who died from what was labeled as a "massive coronary". What exactly does that mean? In my book it means that it's quite possible that she could have also had an aneurysm that blew up and killed her instantly. She died instantly while sitting in a chair. I wonder how many people have died from major aortic dissections and the cause of death was broadly labeled as a "heart attack" or "massive coronary". I mean in most cases they don't do autopsies right? Amy Yasbeck has done a great job of creating awareness of aortic disease, and has furthered genetic study of the condition through the John Ritter Research Program. I'm going to participate in their research and see what it turns up. So far the evidence from many studies is showing some sort of genetic link to aortic aneurysms. This is something I'm grateful to be aware of, but definitely not pleased to hear having three children.

Say a prayer for my brother.


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