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Oklahoma siblings have heart surgery in four years

By Sonya Colberg
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) March 2011

James Mose wanted doctors at an Ardmore hospital to fix his aching chest with an anti-heartburn medicinal cocktail known as a “green lizard.”

He got a helicopter ride instead.

Mose was having a massive heart attack and had to be flown to Oklahoma Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City, where surgeons cut open his chest and replaced three clogged coronary arteries.

“I never dreamed it was my heart,” said Mose, 61, of Ardmore.

Ten months after Mose’s heart bypass surgery in 2006, another surprise hit when the baby of the family, Don Mose, went in for tests after noticing he ran out of energy while washing his truck. He, too, was scheduled for open-heart surgery.

“I was really surprised. It just hit me like a ton of bricks,” said Don Mose, 51.

Over four years, the startling medical consistencies continued as each sibling in the family ended up in surgery: Five brothers and sisters. Five open-heart surgeries. A total of 17 bypasses at Oklahoma Heart Hospital for the family members’ clogged arteries.

“We’re real blood brothers and sisters,” Don Mose said.

Heart disease does run in families, but cardiologist Dr. John Harvey, president and chief executive of Oklahoma Heart Hospital, said the Mose situation is rare.

“To have that many family members not only have heart disease, but in the same age range and all five needing bypasses is very unusual,” he said.

The pieces to the family medical puzzle began falling together about the time Vernon Mose climbed into the family car after church, grabbed his chest and threw back his head.

Just like that, he was gone.

Like the apparent heart attack that killed their uncle a quarter of a century ago, numerous members of the Mose family died of heart disease over the years. Another uncle died of a heart attack at age 38. And the siblings’ mother, Anita Mose, survived several heart attacks over the years before dying of an apparent attack in 1991.

Seventeen years after her mother’s death, Dorislene Morgan, 58, had just gulped down her lunch – including a third or fourth daily soft drink that she admits doctors had warned her against – while working outreach with the elders and children of the Chickasaw Nation. She felt tired, with a disturbing ache between her shoulder blades.

“God, give me the strength to make it,” she prayed as she drove herself about 30 miles to the Ardmore hospital.

Doctors found that Morgan had congestive heart failure. In rapid succession, she suffered a stroke and then had tests that showed she had seriously blocked coronary arteries. Like her brothers, she wound up undergoing a triple heart bypass at the Heart Hospital in 2008.

The biggest shock to the Mose family came four months later when Christine Lewis, 56, had to have a quadruple bypass to save her life, despite years of trying to eat more healthfully and exercising heavily. She said she sometimes gave in to fast foods that probably compounded the Moses’ genetic tendency toward heart problems.

“I kind of figure it was the fries,” she said.

Last July, the oldest of the sisters, 59-year-old Shirley Mose, became the last of the Mose clan to end up under the heart surgeon’s knife. Heart doctors once again had surprising news for the Mose family: She’d previously unknowingly suffered such severe heart damage that she was living on just half a heart. The living side of her heart required a triple bypass to open the blockages.

After seeing the American Indian family members at bedside and watching them successfully come through open-heart surgery again and again, nurses at the heart hospital said a wing should be named after the family.

More than 406,000 Americans died of heart disease in 2007. And it’s the biggest killer of American Indians and Alaska natives, claiming more than 2,700 in 2003, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease among American Indians is about twice as prevalent as it is in non-Indians, and heart problems often go along with diabetes, another Mose family health issue.

Genetics play a role, and part of that tendency is related to the lifestyle choices such as eating and exercise habits that run in high-risk families, Harvey said.

But he said there’s still time for the Mose family to turn things around. Open-heart surgery corrects the immediate problem and improves blood flow to the heart, he said.

“But in the long run, you’re also trying to protect the bypasses from blocking up as well. So it’s still important to do all you can to change your lifestyle,” he said.

“There’s no reason you can’t significantly improve your odds over time.”

The family said they’ve all eaten too much fast food and been too sedentary at times. Now, they’ve begun eating more healthfully and walking together.

Harvey said it’s a good idea to eat better and exercise earlier in life, especially in high-risk families. And though it’s not easy, that’s just what the Mose family is trying to encourage in their grandchildren.

James Mose said they sometimes give in as their grandchildren clamor to eat fast food.

“When we have the grandkids, they always want to go there. We’ll take them to ballgames and then treat them afterward,” he said. “We’re trying to be good to them. But I just realized that maybe we’re not treating them so good after all.”