Sunday, April 21, 2013

Knowing That Routine All Too Well

Though it was a sudden passing so far removed from our time as 1927 may be, I feel drawn to know more about whatever ailment caused young Harvey Woodworth to slip from his family’s grasp with such finality.

At age twenty three, Harvey would have been in the midst of what some consider the prime of life. However, a newspaper report indicating that he had been “frail from childhood” makes me wonder. Are there any telltale signs I can glean, just from this brief description of his health issues?

More than just making me wonder, the scenario has a déjà vu aura about it. You see, I’ve been through that scene before, myself. Just like Harvey’s mother, reaching out to catch the slumping figure of her son, I’ve been standing next to a family member struck in quite the same fashion.

I can remember being in my office on the afternoon it happened for me—a desk next to an inner courtyard inside a locked mental facility—looking up to see a minister from my church standing in the doorway, needing to tell me some urgent message. The shock from wondering how someone could access so many locked passageways to arrive at this location quickly gave way to the shock of hearing the news of how a loved one’s life now depended upon the quick action of a heart surgery team at a hospital which, only one year prior, had no such capabilities at all. Added to that was the incredulity of knowing that loved one had just dropped me off, back at my office, after a lunch meeting with him.

How quickly these life challenges can arise.

I remember another time, pulling into my driveway—I the passenger, a healthy driver at the wheel—getting out, then turning to speak to my companion, only to realize he was slumped over, still in the driver’s seat, appearing now just as lifeless as he, only minutes before, had been so animated by life.

These things can happen.

If you remember the reason I started this series of posts here on the Bean and Woodworth family, you may realize that it wasn’t so much a person whose genealogical identity I was pursuing, as it was a health proclivity I sought. When I told you I was beginning this story at “The End,” I was telling you about a man who also could have had this Harvey’s story as his final report.

Thankfully, he didn’t. From the time he first “slumped” from a “childhood heart ailment” until the point at which his health problem accosted him with finality, God spared him a gracious thirteen years. Like Harvey, his first episode occurred close to that same age—in his case, twenty four—but unlike Harvey, medical technology had advanced to such a degree that a viable treatment could counteract his dilemma.

Not that I can say for sure what ailed young Harvey Woodworth. I don’t even know what was entered as cause of death on Harvey’s death certificate. But the scenario seems so similar to those I’ve known, that I wonder if Harvey’s demise was owing to the same Marfan syndrome that has smitten so many other descendants in this Woodworth line.

A thought like that makes me want to go back and re-examine the other untimely deaths in this line, too. They may be telltale hints on the trail of tracking a deadly inherited trait.


  1. Yes, I remember you mentioning the Marfan syndrome before, and one brother who suffered from it. Associated with elongated limbs, as I recall. You have had some bad shocks in your life, and you describe two of them. I'm very sorry you had to go through this!

    I did not realize that you were interested in genealogy because of a "health proclivity." That's tragic. I wonder if this is a disease that can be screened for? Perhaps at some future time they will be able to substitute gene sequences in order to prevent it!

    1. Thank you, Mariann, for your concern. Yes, it can be rather shocking going through such experiences!

      Actually, it is in researching this particular line that I am focusing on the health aspect. For all the other family lines, I'm researching them for basically the same reasons as anyone else pursuing genealogy: I really want to know my roots! But, as you can see, for this particular family line, there are so many telltale signs of the health difficulties inherent in the disease, that I wanted to see if I could spot it through the narrative of the family history.

      Yes, hopefully with further research, there will be effective ways to address this syndrome's deadly side. It is not a well-known syndrome, but its impact is felt by many.

  2. Jacqi, you write so poignantly about the pain you shared with the Beans and the Woodworths. It cannot have been easy to go through, and I hope your research and writing have helped heal some of that pain. Perhaps it also will help others who have experienced this tragic syndrome first hand see that they are not alone.

    1. Yes, Linda, those who have been touched by Marfan syndrome are not alone. There are support groups and organizations dedicated to raising awareness about this disease, treatment options, and available ongoing resources.

      Thank you for your kind words. It's my hope that those who do have this syndrome get connected with available help, and that they and their families find the support they need throughout the entire process.

  3. Ah, did you know... that back in the day (1910s-1940s) they sprayed orange trees with cyanide to prevent bug eggs from hatching and also benzene?

    "Typically, an acute ingestion will have a dramatic, rapid onset, immediately affecting the heart and causing sudden collapse. It can also immediately affect the brain and cause a seizure or coma."

    1. Interesting to consider this a possibility. It's amazing what people thought was handy or useful in both agriculture and industry in former times--stuff we read and are horrified at today!

  4. How quickly life changes..and usually not for the better either:(

    1. We certainly aren't equipped for those radical, rapid changes. Sometimes, it's over before we realize it had even started. Maybe, that's mercifully. On the other hand, when life changes for the better, it seems to ooze over to the positive side. Maybe that's a good thing, too: we can always use lingering over those positive moments!


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