Lori Young, left in both pictures, with her cousin Lisa Lee-Ranson.

Lori Young, left in both pictures, with her cousin Lisa Lee-Ranson.

First cousins Lisa Lee-Ranson and Lori Young have lost more than a dozen of their relatives to heart disease.

Young’s father died after an evening jog from a heart attack at age 32, when she was only 4 years old.

Ranson’s father had his first heart attack at 47. Since that occurred three decades ago, he has been living with heart failure after surviving multiple heart attacks and bypass surgeries.

The family’s long history of heart disease is mostly attributed to unusually high cholesterol. Young, now 53, found that she was affected by the genetic issue when she was 27 years old.

“I had just learned that I was pregnant. The doctor checked my cholesterol, and it was 600,” said Young. “Years later, when I was 39, I had a heart attack.”

Ranson’s high cholesterol also wreaked havoc on her when she was young. Diagnosed with high cholesterol in her early 30s, she had to have double bypass heart surgery at age 34.

“I had some burning sensation in my chest when I’d exert myself, like walk steps or walk distances. I had hoped it was acid reflux or something, but knowing my family history, I had it checked out,” Ranson said.

Her doctor scheduled a stress test, but he stopped her before she even completed it and admitted her straight to the hospital. A heart catheterization was done the next morning and found she had blockages in her heart of 90 and 99 percent.

“When my parents came into my hospital room that night, my dad was crying, he was blaming himself and our family genes,” Ranson said.

High cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. It’s often the result of an unhealthy lifestyle, such as eating a poor diet and being physically inactive.

But for one in every 250 Americans, genetic risks matter most. They’re living with familial hypercholesterolemia, an inherited defect in which the LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, levels in the blood remain very high without treatment. Diet and exercise alone are usually no match for familial hypercholesterolemia.

Young began treating her high cholesterol with medications after the birth of her son. She exercised, did yoga and followed a good diet. She stopped eating meat and most fats for a year. But her numbers never dipped below 196.

Despite the challenges, Young has outlived her father by two decades and continues to thrive. It’s the awareness of her risk and proactively living to avoid a worsening heart condition that keeps her alive and well.

Ranson, like her cousin, took control of her life and numbers. She lives today without limitations, but takes cholesterol-lowering medications, exercises and eats right.

Young’s message to people of all ages, whether they have a family history of high cholesterol or not: “Go to the doctor and have a good checkup. Knowledge is what will save you.”

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