In February 1964, when the first American Heart Month was proclaimed, cardiovascular diseases were responsible for over half of all deaths in the United States annually. Today, even with the current standard of care, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and the No. 1 cause of women’s deaths each year.
As a clinical scientist focused on cardiovascular research, a woman and the daughter of a heart attack survivor, American Heart Month is much more than a disease awareness campaign; it’s an important reminder that statistics represent real people – and cardiovascular events hit many of us close to home.
My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Cambodia as refugees in the late ‘70s. Their world changed overnight, and they had to adapt to a very different culture and lifestyle. My father worked the night shift, which over time contributed to negative changes in his diet and physical activities. This, and years of smoking since his youth, contributed to him having heart disease and a serious heart attack at age 50. I was in college at the time and knew little about heart disease. My worries mounted: Would he be OK? Is another one possible? Could our family survive without him? I never imagined it could happen in my family and I never wanted it to happen again.
This was the start of my career journey to help protect people’s health. Thankfully, my father survived. And today, I am a clinical development lead at CSL, where I support the largest trial in the company’s history – a Phase III mega trial known as AEGIS-II, which is dedicated to evaluating heart attack survivors.
With this trial, we’re investigating the drivers of recurrent heart attacks within the first 90 days of an initial attack. We recently achieved our goal of enrolling more than 18,000 heart attack survivors and we now look forward to locking the data and further analyses. With the AEGIS-II trial – and all our research efforts – we are driven by our promise to patients and the promise of biotech to improve lives.
Seventeen years after my father’s heart attack, cardiovascular disease hit home a second time, this time striking my mother. I now knew the questions to ask, and though my mother was not a study participant, her treating cardiologist happened to be an AEGIS-II study investigator! I feel fortunate that my parents are alive today. They’re now retired, more health-conscious and a huge help with our kids – allowing me to pursue the career I am so proud of.
Hopefully in sharing my personal experience, others will be inspired to do the same. Thank you to everyone who is participating in American Heart Month, when we also support Go Red for Women® and National Wear Red Day®. This month, I will wear red for my parents, for all women and for heart attack survivors – for whom research and education are so vital. Who will you wear red for?