Mark L. Hopkins: Pay attention to the warning signs

Mark L. Hopkins, More Content Now

At the close of a November meeting several years ago, a lady asked for permission to address the group. Her message was direct and pointed. She said, “I have no desire to attend any funerals over the next several months. I want you all to swear off of shoveling snow, pushing cars that have slipped off of the road, jogging in below-freezing weather, and other activities that put your heart in stress. Last winter I attended three funerals of longtime friends, all of whom died shoveling, pushing, jogging and doing things they should have known better than to attempt. None of you are in the peak of condition so think before you do something dumb.”

Her comments left us all speechless. She was right. We were all older and more sedentary than in earlier years. Winter is the time when the number of heart attacks accelerate. So, to everyone reading this column please do as the lady advised: “Please think before you do something dumb.” 

Heart attacks and strokes are the twin maladies of our society. They are the numbers 1 and 2 killers in the United States. Each year 715,000 people have heart attacks and 795,000  suffer strokes. Heart attacks kill more than 100,000 each year and strokes kill 140,000. Someone dies from a heart attack or stroke every 30 seconds. More deaths are attributed to heart attacks and strokes than all types of cancer combined. In addition, strokes are the leading cause of long term disability in the U.S.

Women used to think of themselves as exempt from such problems, but not anymore. The latest statistics tell us that one in seven female deaths will occur as a result of a heart attack or stroke.  

So what are the symptoms we should be looking for? The list includes being overweight, not sleeping at night, bouts of fatigue, legs that swell from water retention, and being short of breath walking from the parking lot into the store.    

Several years ago I was playing tennis with my regular Monday night group. In the midst of the first set I was not feeling right. I asked for some rest time between sets. About half way through the second set, I did something I had never done before. I left my three friends on the tennis court and went home.  I took a couple of aspirin and sat down in my easy chair. The next morning I called the doctor’s office and, mercifully, he had a vacancy. I thought he would give me a stress test. He said, “No, you already had your stress test on the tennis court.” Instead, he sent me to a cardiac specialist, who sent me directly to the local hospital for a catheterization. An hour later, I found myself lying on a gurney with a doctor looking across  at me saying, “We have a problem.” 

At the end of her diagnosis she said, “So, do you want to go to Emory in Atlanta or Greenville for your open-heart surgery?” I chose Greenville and asked, “Should I go home and pack a bag?” She said, “Your wife can pack a bag and meet you at the hospital. I have already called the ambulance for you.”

That was 17 years ago. It was an experience I will never forget and not one I would recommend.  But, on the bright side, I have watched my grandchildren grow up, seen several  graduations, and experienced a lot of life that might have disappeared had I not been so fortunate.  Well, more than fortunate … blessed.

So, it is the time of year for heart attacks. and no one in your family wants to go to a funeral. A treasured teacher of mine used to say, “A word to the wise should be sufficient.” 

— Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and the Anderson Independent-Mail in South Carolina. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states. Books by Hopkins currently available on and Barnes & Noble include “Journey to Gettysburg” and “The Wounds of War,” both Civil War-era novels, and “The World As It Was When Jesus Came.” Contact him at