Todd left home the morning of March 16 for his daily workout, and 10 minutes later he suffered a heart attack behind the wheel of his car,” recalls Daphne Bell. “Todd looked the picture of health, but we didn’t know he was dying from heart disease.”
Daphne Bell is the widow of Todd Bell, a former OSU and professional football player and well-known community activist in central Ohio. He was in extraordinary shape for a 47-year-old man and had yearly physicals.
“After his last physical, Todd’s cholesterol was a bit high,” Bell says. “The doctor recommended a heart scan and wrote a prescription for the scan, which I found in Todd’s briefcase after he passed away. Todd died three weeks after the prescription was written. I believe Todd intended to get the scan, butlike we all dohe put it off, thinking he had time.”
Daphne Bell, a spokesperson for heart disease awareness, is turning her personal tragedy into a crusade to make people aware of the importance of knowing their family history regarding heart disease and taking all the steps necessary to combat this silent killer.
“Up to 25 percent of first cardiac events, including sudden death, occur in people with no symptoms,” explains Amy Sturm, a certified genetic counselor with OSU Medical Center’s Division of Human Genetics.
The Division of Human Genetics is on the cutting edge of an exciting new fieldusing genetic testing to determine a person’s predisposition to cancer and heart disease. Researchers are conducting genetics-related research programs and clinical trials including an independent study of the human genomein effect, a map of chromosomes and their related genes.
OSU cardiologist Philip Binkley, MD, explains that pharmaco-genetic testing for heart disease is in an earlier stage of development than genetic testing for cancer. “But we are improving our understanding of which genes are important in recognizing which person may develop heart disease.”
For example, significant studies in cancer genetics at Ohio State have uncovered an unusual class of genes that can determine whether a person with chronic lymphocytic leukemia has the most dangerous form of the disease. They have also discovered that a gene variation that increases the risk of inherited cancer can also arise during the development of non-inherited tumors.
For genetic heart testing, patients in the Division of Human Genetics spend as many as two hours with a counselor reviewing their family’s history of heart disease. These patients may be asked to bring in medical records for themselves and their family. Based on the findings of this extensive interview, the counselor may recommend genetic testing. A blood sample is examined for the presence of genes that might indicate heart disease. The sample is also tested for other known heart disease indicators.
Family Risks, Personalized Response
“Genetic and other types of testing can be used to determine risk for coronary artery disease and inherited forms of arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat), cardiomyopathy (inflammation of the heart muscle), congenital heart disease and aneurysms,” Sturm says. “We take the family history up to three or four generations.”
Genetic testing has always been extremely reliable in detecting whether a person will develop these conditions. Sturm calls the high reliability of the testing penetrance. “That is, if 100 people have genes indicating possible heart disease, and 90 people develop the disease, that is a 90 percent penetrance,” she says.
According to Dr. Binkley, while many doctors are finding genetic testing for heart disease useful, the majority of cardiologists only recently have become fully aware of the benefits of genetic testing. They are looking to OSU Medical Center’s pioneering program for answers. “The word is starting to spread, and I receive many inquiries for more information on genetic testing,” he says.
No one can ever know whether genetic testing would have identified the disease that killed Todd Bell. Still, Daphne Bell is convinced that every person should use every means necessary to detect heart disease as early as possible. OSU Medical Center’s Division of Human Genetics is an exciting new resource for spotting a potentially lethal condition before it’s too late.
“No matter how healthy you are, you are not exempt from heart disease,” Daphne Bell insists. “Any change in your health can mean something. You need to take the steps necessary to know your family history and find out what is going on. The next second of your life is not guaranteed.”
People interested in genetic testing for heart disease should talk to their physician about the test or, if you are in central Ohio, contact OSU Medical Center toll-free at 800-293-5123 for information about heart genetic testing or to set up a counseling session. In addition, you can take the Family Health Link survey to learn more about your risk https://familyhealthlink.osumc.edu/.
For more information about Daphne Bell’s story and upcoming book “The Pain Didn’t Kill Me”, visit www.daphnebell.com .