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Born with high cholesterol

high cholesterol illustrationOn a Friday morning last October, I drove to the East Bay to meet with a fellow who I had been told had quite a story to tell. I met Scott Radabaugh in a coffee shop in San Ramon – a tall, dark-haired man with a weightlifter’s physique and an eagerness to unburden himself of the many troubles he’d suffered as a result of his genetic predisposition to high cholesterol. This was no garden-variety high cholesterol, but the kind of numbers that put people at serious risk of heart attack at a relatively young age.

We talked for more than 2 ½ hours as Radabaugh, 46, detailed his surgeries – his quadruple bypass and the surgery to clear a clogged vessel in his neck – as well as his ongoing anxiety about when the next heart event might strike.

“I’m on hyper alert,” he told me for a story that appears in Stanford Medicine magazine's new issue. “Once I have chest pains, it may be time…What’s scary is that I don’t go anywhere without nitroglycerin or aspirin [to help defuse a blood clot or heart attack]. I think about my own mortality many times a day.”

Radabaugh had learned just three years ago that he had inherited a gene for high cholesterol, a condition known as familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). People with FH are born with high cholesterol – yes, babies can suffer from high cholesterol. And the harmful substance begins building up in the arteries from that time forward.

Unfortunately, Radabaugh had passed the gene on to his three children, and he felt some guilt in that. All of the children, as well as Radabaugh himself, are taking medication to help prevent heart problems and are careful in their eating habits. The disease, I learned, is relatively common in the U.S. population, though few people are aware it. As an advocate with the FH Foundation, a nonprofit patient organization, Radabaugh is hoping to change that – and to help others avoid some of the heartache he’s experienced himself.

Previously: Mysteries of the heart: Stanford Medicine magazine answers cardiovascular questions and Hope for patients with familial hypercholesterolemia
Illustration, which originally appeared in Stanford Medicine magazine, by Lincoln Agnew

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