In 1968, at age 56, my grandfather had a heart attack. It surprised a lot of people. With a full head of hair, he was thin, youthful looking, and rarely sick. He received standard patient treatment for the time—prolonged bed rest and morphine. When he recovered, he continued his pre-attack lifestyle which included smoking, almost no exercise, and a diet of meat, potatoes, and my grandmother’s cream pastries. Five years later, he was dead, the result of another heart attack.

Had my grandfather been born a quarter century later, he surely would have lived longer than 61 years. Scientific advances in the last 40 years have greatly improved the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart disease both in the United States and abroad. In the 1960s, the chance of dying within days of a heart attack was almost 40 percent in...

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