I did not expect to meet my fiancée at a bowling alley. In 2014, I joined a bowling league and was randomly placed on Doug’s team. During that time, I got the chance to get to know him, and on July 5, 2015, Doug asked me to marry him. Little did I know; his death would change my life forever.
Two months later, Doug, a master mechanic for 30 years, purchased our dream house in West Brandywine Township with a full-blown mechanic’s fantasy of a two-story garage.
In 2016, after almost a year in our home, my sister and brother-in-law from Michigan came to visit us over the Fourth of July weekend.
On the third day of their vacation with us, I went into our room to wake Doug up, but he didn’t respond to me. I remember not recognizing my own voice. I vaguely recall my sister dialing 9-1-1 and my brother-in-law trying to perform CPR, but it was too late.
Doug passed away suddenly due to a massive heart attack on July 1, 2016 at the age of 53.
It wasn’t until his funeral that I found out he had high blood pressure and was supposed to be on medication. It is so important to know your loved one’s family history, so you can work to identify potential risk factors. Doug’s risk factors for a heart attack included being overweight, having sleep apnea, and living with untreated high blood pressure.
Doug was a very private guy. Throughout our brief time together, I learned of Doug’s serious mistrust of physicians. His mom had become ill prior to Thanksgiving of 2009. He told me she went into the hospital and never came home. Doug had to make the decision to take her off life support, and, after that, I don’t think he ever visited a physician again.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since he passed, but these last 20 months have taught me a lot.
His death has reminded me that life is precious and we need to make the most of it. Because of this journey, I’ve taken small steps to improve my own well-being. I try to make better choices with my diet, and I exercise more. I have lost 18 pounds in the process.
I also go to preventive doctor appointments — the visits we all love to hate. Although those may be an annoyance, Doug’s death taught me that regular check-ups need to be taken seriously.
For me, sharing Doug’s story is a way to get people to take a more proactive role in their health care. For the past two years, I have led an American Heart Association Heart Walk team and, with the help of my Mercy Health System colleagues, the Walking for Doug team has raised nearly $7,000 to support the fight against heart disease and stroke.
My main goal is to help educate others on the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, which include discomfort in the chest or other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness or a cold sweat. These signs may vary in men and women.
You need to take care of yourself. Not just for you, but also for your loved ones. I can personally testify that no one you love is ever prepared to live without you.
Stephanie Schick is the Program Coordinator for Mercy Accountable Care at Mercy Health System.