For the past ten years I donned red on National Wear Red Day. I wore it in honor of my cousin Emma and for my Father. I wore red as a reminder that heart disease knows no age nor gender. Red was my color and I wore it proudly. To me I was making a difference by sharing my Father’s and Emma’s heart stories. To me I was giving back for the second chance that my Father was granted.
My Father’s name is Gregory James. He is the son of an Irish woman and a Ojibway Indian. He is one of 13 children who grew up on a farm outside of Lake City Minnesota. His childhood was far from perfect, his Father was always to drunk to care and well his Mama, they only love he knew was the back of her hand. If you ask him about his childhood he will tell you “I survived by staying one step ahead of my Ma.” He never sugar-coated his life for my sister and I. You see my father was diagnosed with ADHD in the late 50’s. My Daddy was considered a throw away and no one ever thought he’d amount too much.
With only a 10th grade education he set out to conquer the world. He got a job in Minneapolis, lived in the YMCA, and learned that life was tough. Somewhere between Minneapolis and meeting my Mama he earned the nick name “Animal.” I’ve heard stories, but my Father has yet to deny or confirm the tales. Since he was barely making it in the City he returned to the tiny river town. As fate would have it he would fancy a female dump truck driver named Sharon. My grandfather played match maker and before long they were married.
My father is a laborer. He knows nothing but factories and nursery fields.Yet he was gentil and kind. Always lending an ear, a helping hand and playing with my sister and I. My Father was sort of like a stay at home Dad. Often my Mama would work double shifts which left my Dad with two tired and hungry daughters. Our dinners consisted of steak, baked potatoes, and watered down Koolaide. He would also get us up and ready for school in the morning.
Fast forward about 18 years. My father was the proudest man in town. One daughter had just finished college and the other was just starting. This is when the bottom fell out. I knew the day my parents dropped me off at college that it would most likely be the last day I saw him alive. He had fallen on ill-health and with no insurance he did not go to a doctor. One can tell when the soul is slipping away. On February 8th my father was admitted to the hospital, in March 2002 he was taken to St. Mary’s hospital in Rochester by ambulance. He arrived barely clinging to life. This, this killed me because I was away at college. My Father aways told us “When all else fails pray.” I just fell to my knees and prayed. I asked God to take me instead to give my father one more chance at life. The odds were not in our favor. However each day he got better and better. We soon learned that he had suffered Ventricular fibrillation which lead to cardiogenic shock.
My Father had survived. At 50 he became a survivor and we were blessed with his life. The past eleven years have not been easy. As a family we have had our ups and downs. My Father is not the same man I grew up with. His memory has faded, he is no longer able to work, and a good day is when he does not repeat himself 300 times. Those days are hard to come by,yet we don’t complain. Each day we have him around is a blessing. His first granddaughter turned one on the 27th and he was so proud. Seeing them together makes my heart happy. Yet, I am reminded that there are thousands of Granddaughters who never got to meet their Grandpas. An that breaks my heart.
What breaks my heart even more is knowing that there are children who never got the chance to meet their Aunt. Heat Disease, Strokes, and Heart Attacks are robbing children of their Aunties. To me my Stroke is nothing compared to my Father’s courageous battle against Heart disease. Because of my Father my life was saved. If I had never volunteered with the heart association I would not have been aware of the symptoms of a stroke. Through my dedication to my Father my life was saved. We are living proof that research can and does save lives.
My Sister, My Mama, and I urge you to wear Red this Friday in honor of someone you love. Sophia would also like you to wear Red because she loves her Grandpa and Auntie very much. If that is not reason enough please wear red in honor of My Father’s niece Emma. Wear red in her memory and for the tomorrows she never got to see.