Medical Minute 2-7: Saving Broken Hearts: Predicting Heart Attacks

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

"My father's father died at age 58 of heart disease."

"My mom died of congestive heart failure."

"My grandmother and grandfather and my mother died of heart disease."

Three people, one thing in common: Heart disease has killed members of their family.

"In the back of my mind, I feel like I'm a little ticking time bomb," said Holly Roche.

The odds are not in Holly Roche's favor. She knows her DNA puts her at risk. But what she didn't know -- genes change over time and so can her risk of a heart attack.

"When somebody is healthy, you may not have an expression of certain genes, but when you're sick, you may get an increased level of a certain gene," said John A. McPherson, M.D., Cardiologist Vanderbilt Heart & Vascular Institute Nashville, TN.

Vanderbilt Cardiologist John McPherson is one of the first doctors in the country to give a one-of-its-kind blood test that reads a person's genomic expression.

"What this test does is measures the levels of different genes that can change over time," said John A. McPherson, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.H.A.

43-year-old Larissa Jennings has been feeling tightness in her chest. Her mother, father and grandmother all died from heart disease.

"You can see, I'm a fluffy person as my family would say," said Larissa Jennings.

"It's very important that we make sure she's not suffering from coronary artery disease," said John A. McPherson, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.H.A..

The test measures 23 different genes, focusing on the white blood cells. They're called inflammatory cells because they're activated when plaque builds up in the arteries. Measurements under 25 percent: Low risk. Above 50 percent: High risk.

Larissa's results: She had an eight percent likelihood of obstructive disease. Holly's risk: Low as well.

"It's a great sense of relief," said Larissa Jennings.

"Every time I feel a little twinge, extra beat or skipped beat, I don't go, 'Oh my gosh,' because I don't think there's anything wrong with me," said Holly Roche.

A discovery that could someday alert millions of people who are unknowingly at risk.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT: Craig Boerner, National News Director Vanderbilt University Medical Center Nashville,

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