Thursday, May 24, 2007

Quintuple bypass, heart valve replacement, and kidney failure: What heart disease and secondhand smoke mean to me, Part II

A few weeks ago I introduced you to my Dad, Henry. A year and a half ago he had a quintuple bypass and a metal valve placed in his heart. After his open heart surgery, his kidneys failed completely and he was put on dialysis. Luckily, I was able to donate one of my kidneys to my father and I'm very proud to say that today is the one year anniversary of our operation. I'm overjoyed to report that both my Dad and I are doing great.
What does this have to do with smoke free air? The answer is everything.

Heart disease affects millions of people every year and it is estimated that 771 non-smoking Wisconsinites die every year from heart disease caused by secondhand smoke exposure. Before you take your next trip to a smoky bar, let me tell you what heart surgery really means (I'll save the details of a kidney transplant for later).

To begin with, two years ago my Dad passed his cardiac stress test. Five months later he was back at the hospital for an unrelated issue. It ended up being a longer stay than he had bargained for. For five days he waited for the doctors to figure out what was going on with his heart. On the sixth day he had his heart surgery. When you have heart surgery, they literally cut open your chest. My Dad said that if felt like he'd been run over by truck. After the surgery, my Mom and I greeted him in intensive care. His body was swollen like nothing I'd ever seen before, and although he said he knew that my Mom and I were in the room, he couldn't talk to us. Thankfully his recovery process went smoothly, but it was still no picnic to be in the hospital for 5 days. As a result of his new metal heart valve, my Dad has to be on a blood thinning drug called Coumadin. Every week he gets blood drawn to make sure that his blood is not too thin or too thick. When you take Coumadin like my Dad does, you have to stop eating many common foods, including garlic and green leafy vegetables.

Like I said, my Dad is doing great, but he and my family have been through a lot. It makes me think twice before I go to a smoky bar. As long as even one person is smoking, it's just not safe. Even ventilation systems don't get rid of the disease-causing chemicals of cigarettes. Is that night out really worth the risk? The easy answer is no, but here's what I want you to consider. You and I might have the choice about whether or not to go to a smoky bar, but what if your job depended on it? Right now there are many places across Wisconsin where hospitality workers are exposed to secondhand smoke their entire shifts, day in and day out. Is it really fair to tell them that they have to choose between their health and a good job?

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