Copyright 2003 Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD)
All Rights Reserved
Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD)

June 29, 2003 Sunday


LENGTH: 559 words

HEADLINE: Mom loses sons to heart disease

BYLINE: Violet Nelson, Freelance OK

Woman's husband, three of her children likely were victims of genetic ailment


For the Argus Leader

BROOKINGS - Tears fill Dorothy Christianson's eyes as she remembers her
husband, who died from an apparent heart attack, and three sons, who each died
from a genetic heart disease.

But even as she knew of the disease could take them all, she felt blessed.

"I left it in God's hands," Christianson said. "The peace I felt was knowing
God was in control."

The Brookings woman lost her husband first, in March 1974, to what appeared
to be a heart attack. Milan Christianson's death left his widow to raise six
children, ages 6 through 19.

"At first, I felt burdened," Christianson said. "But, I trusted God to take
care of my family and to show all of us how to serve him in a new and deeper
way," she said.

Then her oldest son, Terry, died suddenly in July 1986.

His death was caused by ventricular fibrillation brought on by a hereditary
condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Now the chance that her husband
had died from the same heart disease was a strong possibility.

The five remaining Christianson children were tested, and two other sons were
diagnosed with the same condition.

The disease causes the heart muscle to enlarge. "It triggers the heart-muscle
cells to beat independently so the muscles are contracting individually but not
pumping," according to Dr. LeRoy Mueller of Hendricks.

According to the Cardiomyopathy Association's Web site,, the disease is more common than previously reported.

At present, there is no cure. Treatments include drugs, surgery - sometimes
including heart transplants - or other treatments, such as the use of an
automatic cardiac defibrillator implanted in the chest or abdomen.

"It automatically shocks the heart so it goes back into a regular heartbeat,"
Mueller said.

The Cardiomyopathy Association reports the majority of patients will have at
least one first-degree relative who is also affected. But that is not always the

"You can get it without being hereditary," Mueller said. "They think it might
be from a virus, or some kind of muscle deterioration. Or they think sometimes
it might be related to smoking."

In the Christianson's case, the disease ran in the family. After her oldest
son's death, Christianson hoped her other two sons with the condition would be

Still holding to faith, she said that if it was not God's plan for them to
live, she hoped they would not die alone.

Her son Doyle died in March of 1996. And in August 2000, her son Jimmy died
from the same coronary condition.

Dorothy Weeks, a long-time neighbor and friend of the Christianson family,
knows what a strong person Dorothy Christianson is.

"Dorothy has been through so much," Weeks said. "I know she would not have
been able to handle all of this tragedy without relying heavily on His strength,
His word and prayer."

Dorothy Christianson recently retired from her job as program coordinator at
Prairie Crossings. She keeps busy as a volunteer at the local senior center, at
nursing homes and at the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

She enjoys being with her friends and her family, including son Brad and his
wife, Terry; son Dale and his wife, Terri; and daughter, Donetta and her
husband, Butch; and her seven grandchildren.

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