Heart disease at 36: ‘I believed because I was young, I was bulletproof’

In part three of a series on hereditary conditions, Ross Good says he did not expect for his mid-30s and early years of fatherhood to be rocked by heart issues

“Heart disease does not do age requests,” says Ross Good, who was 36 when he found himself with four stents in his heart after multiple signs of heart disease were detected on both sides of his heart in 2016. “This I know now only too well. If heart disease is in your family make-up, get yourself checked immediately. It could genuinely save your life.”

While Ross was aware that heart disease ran in his family, he did not expect for his mid-30s and early years of fatherhood to be rocked by heart issues. “My youngest was only six months old, while my eldest wasn’t even four at the time, and it took me by surprise, I can’t lie. When I was younger, I knew it was in the post, but I had my 50s earmarked for it. The thought of running into serious heart issues in my 30s just wasn’t part of my thinking.

“In my 20s, I was young and fearless. I was simply working and living for the weekends back then, as any 20+ year old does. My health concerns definitely took a back seat. With the benefit of hindsight, the truth is that I believed because I was young, I was bulletproof health wise, and like I said, I was naive to the effects of heart disease.”

This naivety is not an uncommon trait as many of us feel impenetrable in our youth, yet Ross’ dad Norman who will be 74 in August, underwent a triple heart bypass at the age of 46. Since then, he’s had a number of stents and has suffered both a major and a few minor heart attacks during his lifetime.


“He wasn’t the only one in his family to be affected,” says Ross. “All of my dad’s six siblings also have had numerous bypasses ranging from double to triple to quadruple bypasses. A few have sadly passed away in the recent past, albeit ironically not from heart issues which may prove just how successful heart surgery can be if caught in time.”

Prof Martin Rothman of the Heart Cells Foundation says, “By definition, hereditary disease is preconditioned into someone so all that you can do is be aware of the possibility, seek advice from an expert in the subject on what to do to recognise the condition, and to manage it if it occurs in the individual.

“This awareness is critical on not spending time living in fear of developing a condition. Many hereditary conditions have a specified inheritance rate, say 1:4 chance of developing. Furthermore, some conditions have genetic phenotypes so a diagnostic test can tell an individual that they will not develop the disease.”

At the time, youth and the feeling of invincibility played a part in Ross not altering his lifestyle until later in life, when in essence, his heart compelled him to make adjustments.

“I feel so lucky to have dodged a bullet,” he says, “but the truth is I didn’t change my lifestyle until I was forced to. I was reactive, not proactive. I would get my blood work done if and when my GP advised me to. My diet intake was decent. However, during these years, drinking, smoking, clubbing and partying was the preferred choice each weekend and I cannot tell you otherwise.”

A routine blood test with his GP flagged that his cholesterol was quite high for his age. Ross was advised to have a CT angiogram as soon as possible after he explained his family history.

“In fact,” he says, “I only got halfway through the history when my GP stopped me and said, ‘Okay, I’ve heard enough. Here’s a letter for a heart specialist.’ The CT angiogram confirmed the extent of the damage within my heart. It was shocking. I had convinced myself that this would all be a formality and we’d be home asap, all happy. Sure, I was a healthy 36-year-old who had run 5km twice in the same week prior to going in for the scan.”

What followed was not only a terrifying experience but a legacy, as the stress of the news escalated the symptoms of Ross’ heart disease.

“I didn’t realise it at the time, but I know for sure this news pushed my mind into a knot,” he says. “To be very blunt with you, what happened in the next few days was terrifying. Try to imagine you have really long nails and you are holding a balloon in the palm of your hand. You are digging your nails into the balloon as rapidly as you can, and the aim is to burst the balloon each time. This was the sensation I was experiencing on a regular basis at this stage around my heart.”

At St Vincent’s hospital, four stents were inserted into Ross’ heart with urgency. “I can’t say my recovery was a flyer in 2016. I ended up back in the hospital via ambulance a few times as I thought I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t, but it was a number of panic attacks that actually mimic a fair few symptoms of a heart attack, and in the context of me just home with four stents, I got it incorrect under pressure.

“Little did I know, I wasn’t finished with the stents after this. I needed one more stent in August 2020. This was, however, flagged back in 2016 and each year since, it got progressively more blocked as was suspected. Number five was in.”

Fast forward to today and Ross is well both mentally and physically as he launches a new programme for stay-at-home dads, happily called The Good Dad Academy. With his knowledge of fatherhood and navigating the turbulent roads life can offer, he aims to support new dads on their own journey. When it comes to recognising your family medical history, being conscious of the role our genetics can play on our health, he says, “I was never invited to take part in the ‘can I get this when I’m older please?’ because hereditary heart disease simply does not play that game.”

“Awareness of the possibility of developing a heart condition,” says Prof Rothman, “can ensure you see an expert to know how to manage the symptoms sometimes with medications, sometimes with intervention, and sometimes with lifestyle changes.”

“Be present in the moment,” says Ross. “Enjoy your life on this spinning ball. Smile. Be happy. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones.”

Hereditary conditions

  1. Your family’s medical history
  2. Ankylosing spondylitis
Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family