On Heart Health by Marcus Ware

Editor’s note: Former faculty member Marcus Ware presented the following speech about heart health during an Upper School assembly on February 18, 2015.

I would like to thank Ms. Brousseau for reaching out to me a few weeks ago and asking me to consider coming to Williston today to speak to you all. I would also like to thank Mrs. Pickrell and Ms. Jordan Sansone. As I understand it, they too have had their own experiences with Heart Health and are here today with me to bring an awareness to the community about this topic. Thank you, ladies.

Williston, thank you for having me today. I want to share something personal with you. In fact, even people in my extended family do not even know or understand my heart condition. By the end of this talk, I hope you will have learned something about my condition, will have been slightly amused by my humor, and will want to take steps in being aware of your own conditions as they relate to heart health.

Okay, let me take you back in time. It was January 1998. I was a junior at Springfield Putnam High School. And, like most seniors I was living up my junior year of high school. NSYNC was singing songs like, “it’s tearin’ up my heart when I’m with you…” and Backstreet Boys told me that I could say, “But my love is all, I have to give…!” Yes, it was the time of boy bands and I was having fun. My wife at the time, Beyonce, was part of a group known as Destiny’s Child… Okay, okay, no, I was not married, but I had to make sure that you were listening because, people, what we are here talking about today is a serious topic.

Now that I have your attention, I would like to bring up another moment in time: January 20, 2015. Does that date ring a bell for any of you? For me, it was the date that I received a text alert on my phone saying that the Brigham and Women’s Hospital was on locked down because a shooting had occurred and a doctor was shot inside of one of the clinic rooms. You see, I paused for a bit because I am a patient at Brigham and Women’s—and have been so for the past 10 years. Given that I had a high familiarity with the hospital, due to the number of visits and procedures that I have had done there over the years, this text alert made me stop in my tracks and pray that all was okay at the hospital.

So, I continued on with my day, attending meetings, handling student conduct, and preparing documents for my school’s NEASC accreditation visit that is coming up in the fall. It was a regular day at Commonwealth Academy. However, the texts kept coming up on my phone, though. “Gun man fired two shots at doctor, reason unknown” ” Gunman turned gun on himself…” “Police find gunman dead inside clinic room at Shapiro Cardiovascular Center.” I thought to myself, “The Shapiro Cardiovascular Center?! That is where I go for my appointments.” I started to worry and think to myself, “God I hope none of my doctors are injured over there!”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital is where I go for all of my appointments because I have something called “third degree heart block.” Third degree heart block is when the electrical signal is not sent from the atria to the ventricles. The heart compensates by producing electrical signals from a specialized pacemaker area in the ventricles. These signals make the heart contract and pump blood, but at a rate that is much slower than normal.

You see, my condition has heart rates that are extremely slower than the norm, which is roughly between 60-80 beats per minute for an adult my size while at rest. My resting heart rate is between 35-45 beats per minute. That may seem slow to many of you, but hold up, let me give you context as to why I thought that was just normal for me: I was a middle, high school and college athlete. I played soccer and volleyball. Imagine my surprise when I first learned about my condition while recovering from a hernia operation that I had back in 1998, as a junior in high school. The doctor was so concerned about my low heart rate while I was in recovery from my operation that he sent me to a cardiologist for follow up.

To fast forward a bit, let me say this, I learned about my condition in 1998 and I was in denial about the remedy proposed for my condition when the cardiologist told me that I needed to get a pacemaker either at that time or sometime in the near future. So, I took soon to mean I don’t need this right now so, let me keep going on about my life like usual. Not so smart, I know, but who at the age of 16 wants to be told they need a pacemaker. So it was not until 22 when I was working at Curry College when I noticed that I had gained a lot of weight, (weighing around 265) the biggest I had ever been and I had trouble breathing while walking. So a good friend of mine said, “You need to go to Brigham and Women’s. It is one of the best hospitals in the country.” So, I made an appointment and met Dr. Bruce Koplan. It was there that Dr. Koplan convinced me to get the pacemaker in 2004 by saying these words to me, “You can literally drop dead if you do not get a pacemaker!” I still remember it like yesterday. That is what it took to get me to say, “Sign me up!”

I lived for about seven years with my first pacemaker before I started to develop problems. For the sake of time, I will tell you that I needed to get an upgraded pacemaker and Dr. Koplan told me that he had a friend who I would like and could do the procedure for me. His name: Dr. Michael Davison. Upon meeting Dr. Davidson, he had told me that he could give me my life back. Up until 2013, I had issues with chest pain and feeling like I couldn’t work out without feeling like I couldn’t get my second wind. For those of you who know me, you wouldn’t have been able to tell I was having problems because I refused to let it show on the surface. Also, I had learned that I was in congestive heart failure. This is when the body cannot keep up with the body’s demand for oxygen through the blood circulating through out your body. As a result, a person like me would start to exhibit symptoms such as discomfort in my ability to breathe, severe fatigue, nausea, and even feeling faint. Dr. Davidson had told me that i needed a bi-ventricular pacemaker to increase my hearts efficiency to pump blood through my body, thereby, allowing me to become active again. I once again said, “Sign me up.”

I had the procedure done and it has been 14 months since it was done. I am loving life; I started to go back to the gym, I became a Zumba instructor, and am teaching classes at my local gym. Many of you already know, I love hip hop and latin music, so you know I have to get my Zumba on. You see, I needed to tell you about the Brigham shooting because it was Dr. Davidson who was fatally shot that day. It broke my heart that day because when you have a condition like that one I have, you get to know your doctors very well. And I knew Dr. Davison so well I even called him Michael, and I knew that he had a wife with three kids and that his mother was an educator, too. This is why I was so upset because it was him who gave me another chance for me to be me: the lively, singing, dancing, Marcus Ware.

It was this event that brought me to post on Facebook how saddened I was about his lost. But I believe that everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t posted my feelings on Facebook, Ms. Brousseau wouldn’t have known about my connection to this event nor would she have probably asked me to partner with Jordan and Mrs. Pickrell for this assembly today. For that, I am forever grateful that you were reading online and saw my post. I am here today to say that this is a great action that Jordan is heading up by bringing awareness to the Willy community about Heart Health. Ladies and gentlemen, please understand, you should know if you have any underlying conditions that may cause you to go into cardiac arrest. For me, I do not mind that I have a pacemaker. Yes, it is life-altering: I can’t stand in front of speakers, I can’t use my cell phone on a certain ear, I cannot pass through metal detectors because if I do, I run the risk of having my device to function improperly and leave me in a compromised state, which includes cardiac arrest and could be fatal.

I urge you to listen to the information given you to you today in this assembly and find out if you have any symptoms that you should be aware of that may jeopardize your heart health. Also, talk to your family so that you can know your risk factors because some conditions are genetic and the earlier that you know about your family history, the better chance that you can get the necessary care to live a life that is not compromised by your heart health.

I thank you for your time and encourage you to always pay attention to your health because like Dr. Davidson told me, “You know your body, always pay attention to what it is telling you.” I am forever thankful to him for performing a procedure on me in which I can get my “single, single, double on!”

Thank you for listening! Happy Wednesday!

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