Christine & Scott Hamele: Our Why: The Heart of a Family
Christine & Scott Hamele: Our Why: The Heart of a Family Three generations of the Hamele family are staunch and passionate advocates for the American Heart Association and its work.
Scott and Christine, their family and a host of friends will join hands on Sat. June 16 at the 2018 Kansas City Heart & Stroke Walk as symbols of generations fighting against heart disease and raising public awareness.
It’s a family affair of the heart. For Scott, for Tommy, for future generations—here are their stories.
Forty-six-year-old Scott Hamele of Lenexa had difficulty keeping pace with his 80-year-old father while walking to Lambeau Field for a Packers vs. Chiefs showdown in September 2015. The construction company owner thought it was the final heart-pounding alarm to kick him into action and take heed of symptoms.
But Scott needed a few more nudges to convince him that his heart was in trouble. He had seen Overland Park Regional cardiologist Dr. Theordore Pope who completed a full cardiology work-up, including a Coronary Calcium Test. Following the results of that test, medication, diet and exercise were ordered. Lifestyle adjustments were mandatory.
“A friend passed away from a sudden heart attack in the spring of 2015,” Scott says. “Turns out he had the ‘widow maker’—a critical blockage in his left anterior descending artery, or LAD. My friend’s death was fresh in my mind and I knew that things weren’t remarkably better with my health.”
But Scott, still dismissing subtle hints, thought he just had the effects of heartburn resulting from consumption of spicy foods and wine. And because he walked construction sites on a daily basis, he figured that activity qualified as exercise.
Months later, on that fall afternoon in Green Bay, Scott—who was popping antacid tablets like candy again— made an excuse to stop and catch his breath.
“I spied a network broadcast buses and told my cousins and dad, ‘Hey, let’s get a group picture,’” Scott recalls. “That helped me regain composure for a minute but when I started climbing stairs inside the stadium, I felt troubling symptoms in my back, my neck, arm constrictions.”
Settling into his seat, Scott looked around for an emergency exit ‘because in my mind I literally thought I was going down.”
Eventually, though, his heart stopped racing, he started feeling better and the episode was a distant—if not gnawing—memory as the football game got underway. It was a rainy afternoon and the Chiefs were losing—two things Scott credits for preventing another heart-pounding incident.
“Because of the weather we didn’t move around much and the Chiefs were playing lousy, so I wasn’t cheering and getting excited,” he says.
Still not putting 2 + 2 together
Scott left Green Bay and drove back to Kansas City, stopping for a few meetings along the way.
“I didn’t feel well, but just kept pushing myself,” he recalls. “Again, I thought it was a temporary situation.”
When Scott pulled into the driveway at home, he knew something was terribly wrong and told his wife, Christine, about the fatigue and discomfort. They called Dr. Pope immediately and with symptoms progressing, he went to Overland Park Regional Medical Center for a stress test.
Then things got more serious—fast.
Dr. Pope scheduled a procedure in the Cath Lab and, once there, Dr. Rajendran Sabapathy, an interventional cardiologist, discovered Scott had a critical 99 percent blockage in the LAD‚ the so-called “widow maker.” He placed a stent to relieve the blockage in Scott’s heart.
“Don’t ignore symptoms of shortness of breath or chest pain or rationalize they are related to aging without a thorough cardiac evaluation,” Dr. Sabapathy cautions. “Be proactive.”
Instead of going to the Kansas City Royals World Series Parade with their family, as they had planned, the Hameles celebrated in the ICU.
“Then the real work began to get healthy,” Scott says, “by listening to my amazing doctors, changing my diet, addressing my high cholesterol and committing to an exercise plan.”
Looking back, Scott realizes he had plenty of warning signs, including sluggishness in early September and the reoccurring feeling he chalked up to heartburn. “I was a ticking time bomb,” he says, “and it took a near-death experience to prove to me once and for all that my heart isn’t invincible.”
The domino effect
Scott’s friends took note of his 25-pound weight loss and lifestyle transformation following his heart crisis and began querying him about their own symptoms.
“After sharing my story with others, people were shocked and started listening to their own bodies,” he says. “ A colleague had a quadruple bypass soon after, one of my best friends went to the ER, saw Dr. George Pierson, and within a week had a pacemaker placed, saving his life. Many others made appointments with their physicians, or scheduled a heart scan. People just kept reaching out to me. Their attitude was, ‘If it happened to him, it could happen to me.’”
The emotional impact of Scott’s health emergency on his family still haunts Scott.
“My two teenage daughters and wife were supportive, of course, but there was some initial anger as well since I wasn’t proactive with my own health,” he says. “It was like, ‘We are a family and we’re all in this together and we can’t imagine losing you.’”
Generations past, present and future
But the Hamele heart message didn’t start—and won’t stop—with Scott.
“My parents, Carole and Tom, welcomed their first child, my brother, Thomas Kirkwood, into the world in 1964,” Christine says. “But a medical team was activated because the tiny newborn was turning blue.”
Tragically, Tommy was born with a hole in heart and there was little the doctors could do. They told the shocked parents that the best case scenario was a short three-month life for their beloved Tommy.
“But he was a fighter—he was nicknamed Tommy the Tiger,” Christine says. “He endured many procedures and saw countless doctors in multiple hospitals throughout the country.”After three years, when Carole was eight months pregnant, Tommy the Tiger lost his battle to heart disease.
Scott’s stepbrother, Shaun, also had a brother who struggled with the same congenital heart defect as Tommy and lost his life in the 1960s, too.
“And when Christine was pregnant with our first daughter, Abby Jo, we were frightened because Tommy’s heart condition was genetic,” Scott says.
The Hamele’s had an in-utero test to ensure their daughter would be born with a healthy heart—and she was.
Today Scott and Christine are proud to support the American Heart Association’s efforts, including research, to help reduce the incidence of heart disease.
“Supporting the AHA truly is a matter of heart for us,” Scott says. “For the ones we’ve lost, the ones we love today and future generations.”
Listen to your heart
Scott Hamele has a message of self-awareness and vigilance for people to maintain heart health.
*Listen to your body and trust your intuition
*Keep a good weight
*Eat a healthy diet
*Have regular checkups
*Never think “it couldn’t happen to me”