LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — It's broadcast time for Mark Davis at WILK radio in Pittston Township. Mark has been in the broadcast business for more than 40 years. He does this every day, but as regular as it might be, he says he doesn't take any of this time for granted. He says had it not been for doctors at Geisinger who discovered a genetic cholesterol problem, he doesn't know if he would have made it this far.
"I'm one lucky son of a gun because it easily could have killed me and without any symptoms. I thought I was doing great," Mark said.
"Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited disorder, where normally your LDL–the lousy lethal cholesterol, should be 100 or less for optimal health–your body doesn't process it correctly, and we have these alarmingly high LDL cholesterols," explained Caroline deRichemond, CRNP clinical lipid specialist.
Even after Mark learned he was at risk, he didn't think it was an issue.
"I went for the stress tests, and I think I'm doing great. They're turning the speed up. They're bringing up the incline, everything. I'm doing fine. About a half-hour after the test, a cardiologist comes in said, 'Don't know how I'm going to tell you this, but we have to do open-heart surgery on you.' I was like I got hit by a bus. What happened? He said, 'Your main artery called the LAD, known as the 'widow maker,' is 95 percent blocked."
"We've educated a lot of people in the area," said deRichemond. "We estimate approximately 20 percent of the population nationally has this, and yet less than 10 percent are diagnosed."
Now Mark has a stent in his heart and manages his cholesterol with medicine, diet, and exercise, which he says isn't easy but worth it.
"My kids are 31 and 24. I want to be around to see if we have grandkids. My daughter's married; my son's just out of college, got his first job after graduating from Temple. There's so much more of my life I want to lead. I'm going to turn 65 in August. I don't want that to be the end. I want that to be a new beginning."
That's why Mark is thankful this was caught by doctors at Geisinger before it was too late. He urges anyone with a heart disease history in their family to get checked out.
Watch more Healthwatch 16 stories on YouTube.