"I DON'T NEED to be a celebrity," Kathy Casey-Kirschling told CNBC in an interview this year, "because the whole generation is a celebrity."
She was talking about baby boomers. But the only boomer interviewed in the nationally televised profile was the First Boomer, the one who was born one second after midnight on Jan 1, 1946, at now-demolished Philadelphia Naval Hospital.
"I will be 65 and I have no major health problems," said Casey-Kirschling, who grew up in Pennsauken.
Two decades ago, she couldn't have said that. She knew painfully well that heart disease ran in her family, killing three of her four grandparents and even her mother at age 55.
After her younger sister barely survived a heart attack at age 37, Casey-Kirschling realized it was time to fight back. She began exercising, adding walks of two to four miles daily to her active lifestyle, which included playing tennis, bicycling and skiing. She watched her diet and controlled her weight. Still, that wasn't enough.
At age 49, her cholesterol level was a staggering 380. Cholesterol levels under 200 are desirable, and a level over 240 doubles the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Her unusually high cholesterol is a genetic predisposition, she was told by Emile Mohler III, director of vascular medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, noting her family's history of heart disease. "His goal was preventive," Casey-Kirschling recalled.
She now takes prescription drugs to help lower cholesterol, as well as a daily baby aspirin. Her life is less complicated, too. With an undergraduate degree from Glassboro State (now Rowan) and a master's degree in health education from St. Joseph's University, Casey-Kirschling worked as a teacher and a trainer for NutriSystem. She's now retired and receiving Social Security benefits.
She and husband Patrick split their time between retirement homes on the Eastern Shore and Florida. While driving to Vero Beach, Fla., they shun the ubiquitous easy-off, easy-on fast-food places.
"I take a cooler, and I have a bunch of fresh fruit, whole-grain crackers and lean turkey breast. We eat along the way," she said.
"I really try to eat healthy. Every once in a while, I may have a piece of pie. But I don't go crazy wanting foods I shouldn't have because I really love healthy food. So I feel free when I want to have dessert. Everything in moderation."
Casey-Kirschling, a mother of two and grandmother of six, is enjoying this time of life. "We are thankful every day. There's so much anxiety and cynicism, and that can do people in. I migrate toward the positive. That's something I can control."