I, my brother and sister were each diagnosed as having FH in 1969, two years after our father’s death at 47 years from a heart attack. He had received seven years of treatment (as it was then) for cardiovascular disease including recognised high cholesterol. We were in our teens. Treatment for high blood cholesterol was in its infancy. Our fasting cholesterol levels were around 10 to 11 mmol/l. As we see now this was not necessarily a sentence of premature death, we are now in our 50s and 60s. A study of our family going back four generations revealed three poignant aspects of FH:
- many members of our family branches inherited the disorder unknowingly and suffered premature death from cardiovascular disease. No affected male lived past 47 years of age, some passing away at 37. One female with no prior symptoms or indications died suddenly at 51 of a heart attack;
- almost no male grew up knowing his grandfather;
- males died early, leaving widows to raise their children in often difficult circumstances. Worse, some saw their own children die of premature heart attacks. There are few personal tragedies worse than burying your own children.
Some family members not known to us until recently did not inherit the disorder. Not knowing why their father (or mother) had died prematurely had led them to assume they too would not survive past the age of their prematurely-deceased parent. Once contact was made with them, suddenly, so much later, they understood why their parents and grandparents had died so young.
I was taken into the first Australian Statin trial in 1987 at age 39. Now, at age 67 I am still in good health. I have had the privilege of being treated and mentored by some of the most knowledgeable lipid specialists in the world, yes here in Australia! With the confidence and understanding gained only from my mentors I made sure our children were tested early. Their treatment with statins commenced in their teenage years and they are in excellent health. We also know that some of us develop high blood pressure as we age, putting our arteries at even more risk of blockages. My biggest regret is taking up smoking cigarettes in my teens for about twelve years. I have no doubt it will have shortened my life as it did our fathers.
We are so grateful to our general practitioners, clinicians, researchers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. In the early 1990s I was told by a prominent UK lipid specialist that their lipid clinics were starting to think of FH as a benign disorder provided patients take action with appropriate medical advice on what they should do. Maybe they were correct.
I am the first male in the family for several generations to enjoy time with my grandchildren. They are the first who can say they know their grandfather.