I know many of you who read Straight Talk faithfully will recall that on many occasions I have spoken directly about the way a good relationship with a primary care doctor who helps you manage things like your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar can help extend your life.
When you track these important measures, take your medications and modify your lifestyle a bit, you can put off some terrible outcomes for many years, in most cases. This means a lot fewer strokes, diabetes, kidney failure and, most of all, blocked coronary arteries and heart failure.
I’ve also shared with you that I’m certainly not the picture of health myself. Overweight most of my life, I’d have all of those risk factors I’ve mentioned above if I weren’t being treated. I now see my docs regularly and take my meds religiously to help manage these conditions. At 55 years old, I’m good so far.
This is my friend, Ashley Bridges. I’ve known Ashley, his wife, Sherri, and his amazing daughters, Olivia and Caroline, for 20 years. Ashley’s kindness, his strong faith and his “everything’s good, man!” attitude buoyed me on more than one occasion as we spent time sharing problems and solutions on church retreats. A quality human being, a devoted father, the biggest LSU football fan and tailgater you are ever likely to meet, Ashley set the mark for hard work and human kindness, something we can all emulate.
Over the past few years, I’ve let myself lose track of Ashley and Sherri and the girls. Kids grow, people move around, and we get busy. But a couple of months ago, my wife called me early one morning at work to tell me that Ashley had died.
“(The American Heart Association) estimate(s) 7.5% of men aged 45-54 either have fatal coronary artery disease or a heart attack every year.”
“Which Ashley?” I asked her. (Bridges didn’t even occur to me because Ashley is so much younger than me).
“Bridges,” she said with a sob. I exclaimed “No way!” into the phone, and my knees went weak.
But it was him. On Feb. 12, 2017, Ashley’s heart stopped beating because his coronary arteries were completely blocked, and we all lost a great man, husband, father and friend. At only 48 years old, Ashley was gone.
Everyone Gets Screened, Don’t They?
The more I look into what happened to him, the less sense it makes to me. In this day and age, I assumed we all go to the doctor, we all have our cholesterol checked, our family histories scrutinized, we all get on statins and we all have scans and stress tests. We find blockages, we do balloon angioplasties, we install stents, and we go on. In the most severe cases, we even get artificial heart valves and transplants!
But my friend did not do these things. Like lots of people who never feel sick or bad, he just didn’t get screened. Many of us were raised to think “doctors are for sick people,” and we just don’t go for check-ups.
Ashley had no idea he was at risk; he felt fine.
In my own ignorance, I just assumed everybody gets screened. Gets their family history checked. Gets on the meds. When I found out Ashley hadn’t, I got really, really angry at myself for that assumption. I still am. I was wrong. I assumed too much. There’s something important we need to remember here:
You can’t feel your cholesterol skyrocketing. You can’t feel your blood pressure going up. You can’t feel your blood sugar creeping up over time. You can’t feel these things damaging your kidneys.
But they are. They damn sure are. And these things are happening to us all as we age. And they will eventually lead you to a stroke, diabetes, kidney failure and heart attacks like the one my friend suffered just a short time ago. And nobody can predict when they might strike.
Let’s Look At Some Facts
The American Heart Association now recommends that all of us start having heart screening at age 20! Yes, 20. Have you been screened? Why not?
They also estimate 7.5% of men aged 45-54 either have fatal coronary artery disease or a heart attack every year. That’s 1.5 million men around my friend’s age every single year. Add to that about half as many women. Did you know only about 6% of the people who have a heart attack outside of a hospital survive? Do you really want to face those grim odds without a doctor on your side, without screening and medication?
If I know anything about Ashley Bridges, I know this: He’d be the first to tell you get to the doctor and get checked. In fact, if he were here now, he’d drive you himself! He’d be thrilled to know that his death meant something; that it convinced many others to get screened and live. He’d be happy to know that we all learned something from his passing far too early. Ashley was all about changing lives.
What Can You Do?
So, I’m going to ask you all today to honor my friend Ashley by asking yourself a few simple questions:
“Do I know what my cholesterol, blood pressure or blood sugar levels are?
Can I take an hour out of my day to go to the doctor and get them checked?
Can I pick up the phone RIGHT NOW and make an appointment?”
Yes, you can. I’ve decided to honor Ashley by doing something I didn’t think I could do anymore — I’m walking. Even in my gimpy state (I’ve had a lot of reconstructive surgery on my leg over the years), for the past few weeks, I’ve been getting up early every morning and spending time on a treadmill. I started out slowly, but have been adding five more minutes, a little more speed and a little more incline every week. I’m already starting to feel more energetic, and it’s getting easier to walk. Yes, it’s boring, and hard to do first thing when you wake up, but I keep reminding myself it’s for a good cause.
And I swear I can hear Ashley telling me every day, “Get up and go man! It’s all good!”
And so I will. And so will you if you just go and get screened. Do it and live!
I literally can’t make it any Straighter.