Family Tragedy Fuels Wrestler's Campaign

ByABC News
September 15, 2003, 3:37 PM

Sept. 18, 2003 — -- For former Olympic gold medalist and World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Kurt Angle, being involved in the nation's first angina awareness program is not just a way to give back to the community. It is also his way of grappling with a tragic family legacy and giving a gift of life to his infant daughter.

Angina refers to the pain or discomfort people feel when the blood going to the heart may not have enough oxygen, or the heart receives less blood because the arteries are partially blocked. Angina attacks which can be triggered by any physical activity and emotional stress are not the same as cardiac arrests, but can be a sign of underlying, more serious heart disease.

Last year, the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association launched "Get Tough on Angina," a national awareness and education program for angina sufferers and their families, and Angle became a campaign spokesman.

Angle was all too aware of the effects of heart disease: He says 15 of his family members have either died from heart attacks or battled angina or other heart diseases.

"My sister had a heart attack at age 41, my dad had two heart attacks before he was 55, my uncle and all four of grandparents died from heart attacks," said the WWE champion. "For a while growing up, I thought that heart attacks were just a natural way to go, that most everyone died from heart attacks."

On the surface, Angle, 34, is the picture of perfect health. Wrestling fans are using to seeing his 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound mass of muscle slamming and taking down 300- and 400-pound men around WWE rings. Angle, however, takes nothing for granted.

"Since my family on both sides are affected by heart disease, I make sure I get regular [heart] checkups, which is something I never did before [involvement in Get Tough on Angina]," Angle said.

"I've undergone the various tests heart catheterization, the calcium-buildup tests, and everything has come up negative," he said. "I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I take care of myself. Many people in my family were heavy drinkers, heavy smokers."