HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of both women and men?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 610,000 people die from it in the United States every year - that’s one in every four deaths.
We sat down with the widows of two American heroes from the Lowcountry who defended our nation on the front lines, but lost their battle to heart disease.
Brad Donaldson was an active duty soldier and member of the army reserves. He fought for our nation around the world and battled his cholesterol for the last 10 years of his life by taking medication.
“He spoke to his doctor and he said, 'look, can I give the diet and exercise a while for the next six months see where my cholesterol is? When he did that, his cholesterol was around 160 and the day he died, his cholesterol was 480. His left main artery ruptured. They called it a widow maker and he died instantly," said Catherine Donaldson, Chairperson, Southern Coast Heart Ball.
His death left Donaldson without a husband, and five young children without a father.
“I have four daughters whose daddy will never walk them down the aisle. That’s a hard, hard thing. I have a little boy who never really got a chance to throw a football with this dad. That boy shot his first deer last year and had to stand with his mother who also goes fishing with the poor kid," Catherine said. “People tell me I’m a pretty cool mom, but no matter what, no matter how hard I try, I cannot be Dad.”
It’s heartbreaking, but this year, she turned her loss into a lifesaving mission as the chairperson of the Southern Coast Heart Ball on Hilton Head Island.
“It might mean that just one person doesn’t stop the medication and doesn’t leave five children without a father, then I’ve done my job," Catherine said.
Kayla Harvey also knows firsthand what it’s like to lose a husband to heart disease.
“He actually died from pulmonary embolism and come to find out, he had coronary artery disease.”
Chuck Cochran, Jr., the Marine Corps war veteran, never even knew he had a heart condition. Not only is Harvey trying to help her six-year-old deal with the loss of her father, little Lily also has a heart condition. She was born with congenital heart defects.
“When she was three, one of the holes in her heart closed up, thankfully, but she still has the other one VSD. Because of where it’s located, it causes atrial valve leakage. That’s something that her cardiologist really just keeps a close watch on because if the valve leakage increases, it can cause a lot of additional issues," Harvey said.
Lily also has an obstruction in her aorta. This year, she is the Open Your Heart Honoree for the Southern Coast Heart Ball. Her mom hopes everyone will support the American Heart Association by making a donation or volunteering their time.
Both ladies hope they can save lives by sharing their stories.
WTOCs Dawn Baker will host the Southern Coast Heart Ball on Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa. There will be dinner and a live auction.