Take It From Tony: Investing in NIH Research Saves Lives

Excerpt of an op-ed by American Heart Association President Mariell Jessup, MD, published in the Huffington Post.

2013-09-13-8494_Retouchedsample_RedSweaterCountless songs, stories and poems pay tribute to the hurt we suffer from a “broken heart.” The anguish is all too real for the tens of millions of Americans who’ve experienced the pain that occurs when a heart truly fails.

My patient, Tony Costanza, is one such person. In 1981, when Tony was 55, he began having trouble breathing. His “huffing and puffing” finally forced him to see a cardiologist. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a life-threatening condition in which a weakened heart can no longer pump oxygen-rich blood through the body. Patients experience fatigue from oxygen deprived muscles and breathing problems from congested lungs filled with the blood backing up behind the weak heart. Tony was put on medication and told to refrain from work and get plenty of rest. He describes the fretful days and sleepless nights that followed as “one of the most frightening periods in my life, where all I heard was my heart pounding hard in my chest.”

If current trends continue, there will soon be millions more people like Tony in the United States. A study released this spring by the American Heart Association concluded that the number of people with heart failure is projected to climb 46 percent from 5 million in 2012 to 8 million in 2030 as a consequence of our aging population. The costs to treat these Americans could more than double in the same period, from $31 billion to $70 billion. This would cost every taxpayer $244 annually to care for these patients. What can we as a nation do to help treat and “mend” these “broken” hearts? In my view, the best and only way forward is by finding new ways to treat and prevent heart failure, and this starts with the kinds of medical research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Read the full op-ed here.

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