Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.
The gift of DNA was given to me as last year’s most interesting present at holiday time. My niece and nephew first asked for my permission to send for the information because it required my participation to provide a swab from the inside of my mouth along with payment to be sent to a DNA bank by the generous couple. They had each done it and were fascinated by the results. I was already part of a medically professional genetic study for atrial fib and other heart issues at the medical center heart hospital where I have been a patient for many years. The 2 genetic studies are not related. Read more about that in my most recent memoir IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.
Six weeks later the results came back and my niece and I devoured the information on a Sunday afternoon. How fun. The report is one page of ancestral background percentages. It is not a medical document. Mine was not much of a surprise except for one minor detail shared by both studies. As first generation American on my mother’s side and second generation on my father’s, the report shows that I am 92.9% Askenazi (Europe) Jewish, 5.4% North Africa Sephardic Jewish and 1.7% Nigerian.
The medical center’s genetic heart study is research that can and will help millions. By measuring small genetic variations adding up to do harm in someone’s inherited risk, this study will calculate the most common forms of heart disease (atrial fib) and other serious disorders. The potential cardiac impact estimates that up to 25 million Americans may have triple the average person’s risk for coronary artery disease even if they haven’t yet developed warning signs like high cholesterol.
My participation was put on hold while the protocol for the genetic study was changed. A year ago I was called in by the department to come in for testing which consisted of a one-on-one interview and several vials of blood.
Almost 6 months later I was called back in for a meeting to reveal preliminary results of testing in a meeting with the doctor/scientist in charge of the study, his assistant and me. We were in a conference room at a long table. The doctor sat across from me with 4 pages of typed notes in front of him. His assistant sat next to me. I took no notes.
He explained that they had studied 25,000 of my genes. There are billions of genes in the human body. They compared them to all of the other people in the study comprising an international gene bank. He said that none of my genes were a match for anyone else’s and that it was surprising because of all the health problems I’ve had during my life. He indicated that their findings were good and could be used in research for which more study was needed.
Many other revelations came out during the 45 minute meeting, few if any that I can remember because my mind was focusing on from whom and why I inherited this ‘condition’. I asked if there was anyone with similar genetics to mine.
The doctor said that there was one other person with similar genetics and that person lives in Finland and while not revealing whether man or woman, said that this person is an Askinazi (Europe) Jew and is a direct relative. The mystery continues.