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Crystal Collins Spencer, Esq., Pensacola

I became a volunteer for the American Heart Association in the fall of 2000, when my husband and I agreed to chair the Northwest Florida Heart Ball.

I am an attorney and have been practicing law for more than 32 years. My dad was an attorney and my mom was his office manager, paralegal, and secretary.

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When we were young, my sister and I would go to Mom and Dad's office where we had our own little table, in our special corner. We would play while Mom and Dad worked. As we got older, we went to the office after school where we did our homework.  Later, as a young teenager, I began working in Dad’s office doing everything from title searches to  research and typing. I  loved the work and I loved the time with Mom and Dad. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an attorney. I wanted to practice law with my dad.

Through law school, Mom and Dad were my rock.  They not only supported me financially, they supported me emotionally.  Life, however, changed my second year in law school. At approximately midnight the night before my first final,  my phone rang. It was my mother; she told me that Dad really wanted to speak to me. This was not unusual as I talked to my parents almost daily, particularly during exam time.  Dad got on the phone and asked how the studying was going. After we talked about the upcoming exam, Dad grew very serious, and said to me  "Sweetheart, you have never wanted for anything, you have never needed for anything, you have never known heartache, and you have never known death. I just want to know that whatever life throws at you, if you want this law degree, you will get it." Being absolutely oblivious as to what lay ahead and being completely sleep deprived, I simply said, "Of course, if I can get through this final, I can get through anything. And, Dad, I will get this law degree." He then told me he loved me and I told him I loved him. At 4:30 a.m., my phone rang again. It was my brother‑in‑law telling me that Dad had suffered a heart attack and we would be leaving shortly for the hospital, which was 3 ½  hours away.

My father, who was not a smoker, not overweight, and had no family history of heart disease, passed away that morning, just one month after his 56th birthday, from a massive heart attack.  Those final words from him are forever in my memory.

Although it was difficult, I kept my promise to Dad.  Following graduation, I moved to Florida.  Only a few short years after the death of my dad, my phone rang again.  It was my Aunt Carol. She told me that Mom was having a heart attack and that I should come home.  I took the first flight to Kentucky.  The next morning, Mom was taken into surgery and an angioplasty was performed.  Following surgery, Mom was in her room only a few minutes when she began complaining of severe chest pain.  The nurse assured us that it was her medication.  My mother, not one to complain, continued to voice her concerns.  She told us that the first heart attack was a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.  This time it was a 10.  She was immediately taken back into surgery where it was discovered that a piece of plaque had broken off during the angioplasty procedure.  Mom was now in cardiac arrest.  Due to a then newly released medication, Mom survived.   Mom, who was a smoker, immediately quit and  began exercising regularly.  She was determined to beat her genetic history of heart disease.  Mom went on to become an avid tennis player, snow skier (she was more into the après ski than the skiing), and ball room dancer.  She embraced life to its fullest until she recently succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 86.

My older brother Steve was an avid athlete in high school and college, never smoked a day in his life and always watched his diet. In September 2000, at the age of 49, Steve began experiencing chest pain while exercising.  Fortunately, a friend talked him into going to the doctor.  That evening, I received yet another phone call telling me to come home.  My brother, my idol, my guardian, my protector, needed 5 bypasses to live.  I flew home to Kentucky immediately.  During the surgery, all seemed to be going well. After several long hours, the surgeon said we would be able to see him within 30 minutes.  Thirty minutes came and went.  Then an hour, then 2 hours, then time stood still . . . my brother had suffered a heart attack following the bypass surgery; he was unconscious and losing blood.  My brother lingered in a semi-conscious state for almost 5 days in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. We stayed by his bedside praying, talking to him, begging him to fight, and fight he did. Ultimately, we have learned that two of his bypasses have failed, and a significant part of his heart is damaged.  

In looking back at my family, I have lost my dad, my grandmother, my grandfather,  four uncles and a first cousin. I have lost all of these wonderful people in my life to heart disease. My mom and my aunt lived with heart disease.  My brother continues to fight.

Why do I volunteer for the American Heart Association?  Heart disease has taken the lives of far too many people, depriving our families,  and our communities of someone they love -- a father, a mother, a spouse, a sibling, an uncle, an aunt, a friend, a neighbor.  I have learned that we have the power to make a difference, even with the smallest of acts.  And, if we at least try, maybe one life or one family will be spared the heartache and devastation of heart disease.

We would also like to thank Crystal for realizing the importance of being the face of the American Heart Association in her local community by testifying in front of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission when they held the Pensacola meeting.  Crystal shared a great testimony on why cutting out the funding stream in proposal 94 was a bad idea and the huge unintended consequences.

Thank you again Crystal for all you do, for your community and the American Heart Association. 

 

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