Today marks a day of reflection and thankfulness for my family because exactly one year ago my husband suffered a massive heart attack at the ripe old age of 31. At the time, our son was two-and-a –half and our daughter was just four months old. I vividly remember watching him being taken away in the ambulance and wondering if I would be left alone to care for these two little children. Terrifying does not even begin to describe the events of that morning. I rushed to the hospital and upon arrival I was beyond thankful for the skilled hands of all the doctors and nurses that worked to save my husband’s life that day. This past year has been filled with challenges and a search for our “new normal” and I am proud to say that despite some difficulties in the beginning, we survived and are stronger because of it.
When I think of the changes and additions we have incorporated into our lives over the past tweleve months the obvious heart healthy modifications of diet and exercise come to mind, but there is another very important item that my husband and our family simply could not do without; vaccines. As my husband was getting ready to be discharged from the hospital his nurse asked if he had received his annual flu vaccine, explaining that it was even more important now than ever that he be vaccinated. He was hesitant, citing the age old myth of contracting the flu from the flu shot as his reasoning. His nurse explained that not only was it simply impossible for the vaccine to cause the very virus it aimed to protect from, but as a heart attack victim he was now considered to be at a higher risk of flu related complications. Having just had a near death experience, he decided that flu shot sounded like a good idea. And believe it or not, the flu vaccine can do more than just prevent the flu. It can protect from heart attacks according to research by Dr. Jacob Udell, a cardiologist at Women’s College Hospital at the University of Toronto. In Udell’s study, the flu vaccine had approximately a 50% reduction in not only heart attacks, but also strokes and other major cardiac events. How could a flu shot have a positive effect on your heart health? Two explanations seem to be plausible. First, receiving an annual flu vaccine may protect patients who are already considered to be at a higher risk of flu related complications from one more illness that could “dip them over the edge.” Vaccination also provides protection from inflammation which has long been linked to cardiovascular problems and is a consequence of the flu.
The events that played out a year ago were life changing and have forever left an imprint on our lives. Every day we are thankful for second chances and we will continue to do everything in our power to avoid repeating the past. While diet and exercise are key elements of my husband’s continued heart healthy lifestyle, vaccines are an important piece to the puzzle. By receiving his annual flu vaccine he is doing all he can to protect not only his heart, but the health of his family and loved ones.