My name is Kristen Gradney, and I am the Senior Director of Children’s Health at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My husband, Chad Gradney, was diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) in 2013.
I’m also a mother to the two most amazing children, 11-year-old Hunter and six-year-old Analise.
These are the most precious people in my life, and they are all affected by FH. That’s why I want to help other families like ours. I want them to know that this disorder exists and with early diagnosis, knowledgeable medical staff, and aggressive treatment, their story can be different.
One morning in 2005, I was taking my last nutrition final. Chad was having chest pains and decided to go to the ER.
The next day he was scheduled to have open heart quadruple bypass surgery. He was only 27 years old. Our lives were turned upside down with doctor visits, medication costs, and recovery.
We were married two months later and went on to start living life like there was no tomorrow. Chad took the medications prescribed and stayed active, as he always had. He would fish and hunt all year in addition to just being an outdoorsman. As a dietitian, I was always counting fat grams, cholesterol, sodium, carbs, and everything in each bite of food.
We continued to monitor Chad’s cholesterol, and his LDL never fell below 200. So his cardiologist at the time gave him a strict diet. He also recommended he stop watching the news at night and begin journaling to help improve his cholesterol.
While some of these things were good suggestions, none of them made an impact on his long-term heart health.
By March of 2012, Chad was back in the ER with chest pains. A heart catheterization gave us a huge surprise - all but one of his bypasses were totally occluded.
At this point, we had a young son and there I was looking at my husband in a hospital bed. I worried our child wouldn’t remember his dad. His cardiologist claimed there was nothing more that could be done. He suggested we add Chad to a heart transplant list.
That night I sat on the couch in my husband’s hospital room with my computer in my lap searching for better answers. They were giving up on my husband, and it was unacceptable. That’s when I found the Family Heart Foundation. The resources I found through this group set my family on a path to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
We went from “he needs a new heart” to “you’re going to dance at your son’s wedding” at Johns Hopkins. We met with a cardiologist and lipidologist who got Chad on aggressive treatment with medication and lifestyle changes. They immediately recognized his case as FH, and years later Chad’s Lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), tested high as well.
Today, Chad is thriving. He cuts the grass every week and continues to be an outdoorsman. We’ve had our children tested and continue to monitor their treatment since we know these disorders are genetic and early treatment is key.
I can still remember how it felt on that couch in my husband’s hospital room. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t been an advocate for him, and I hate that feeling. I want to make sure no one else ever feels that way. Continue to advocate for yourself, and if you can’t, the Family Heart community is there to help. I’ll talk to anybody. I’ll help because I’ve been there and none of us have to be there again.
Visit morefamiliesmorehearts.org to see if your family could be at risk of genetic heart disease or stroke.
Family Heart Advocate for Awareness
Family Heart Foundation