Ballard: Sometimes, DNA can be a real pain

February 2, 2014 

When I was 22 years old and my wife, Debra, was pregnant with our son, Blake, I was under the impression you could mold a child and make him into anything you wanted him to be. I thought by how you opted to raise a child you could determine the child’s outcome. Was I ever wrong!

I quickly learned that babies come out of the womb with a unique personality all their own. During the years, I found out you can certainly guide them in certain directions but some things are just a given. Some things are inherited.

It’s not just the color of your skin, eyes or hair that you inherit, but also things that aren’t as visible -- things we may not ever find out about. But lurking in the innermost part of our bodies our DNA determines the very core of who we are.

There are some things we can alter or change, but when it comes to our blood, it’s not only thicker than water; it’s the elixir that controls who we are from the inside out. It defines what course our health will take with each and every beat of our heart.

When we are young, we aren’t too concerned with what we’ve inherited. But as we grow older, our DNA has a way of coming to the forefront. Sometimes it reveals itself slowly. Other times it opts for a more direct approach. Either way, at some point we’ll all have to deal with the DNA cards we’ve been dealt -- whether they are good or bad.

One day when I was a teenager, our father doubled over in excruciating pain. My sister and I didn’t know what had happened but became very alarmed when he began to cry out in pain and crawl around on the floor. We would learn later, after an emergency room trip and some painkillers, that Daddy had suffered from a kidney stone. I thought little about it except I hated to see him suffer.

But many years later, in my early 40s, I learned first hand about kidney stones. It must have been in our DNA because both my sister and I have suffered with those pesky and extremely painful stones.

Daddy also had to have several hernias repaired during the years. Guess what? I’ve also had to endure two painful hernias and the surgeries to fix them. Daddy had a badly twisted lung because his diaphragm hadn’t supported it properly since birth. When I was 19 years old, I had a severe pain in my upper back and learned I had a collapsed lung. The older I became, the more I realized how ailments are passed down from generation to generation.

I had asthma as a toddler. I don’t remember much about it but I spent a lot of time in the hospital with breathing treatments that usually ended with pneumonia. I wasn’t even shocked when -- as fate would have it -- Blake also had asthma as a child and preteen. I hated that he had to use an inhaler and was limited in some respects to what he could do.

However, at that time, Blake was too young to understand DNA -- much less blame it. But after my second kidney stone, he began to put two and two together. Especially after he had listen to his Papa recount his horrible experiences with his kidney stones.

“I suppose I have a lot to look forward to!” Blake exclaimed one day when we were discussing health issues. “I guess kidney stones, hernias and God only knows what else, will come my way.”

“I hope and pray not,” I responded back, silently praying anything painful would avoid him. None of us want our children to go through the painful things we do. But, it’s out of our hands; DNA is in control.

Last summer when I was plagued with another kidney stone, Blake lovingly and, with his wonderful sense of humor he got from both his mother and me, simply said, “Thanks, Dad!” I had to chuckle but deep down inside again begged he would be spared any kidney stones or hernia issues.

After getting blood clots in both of my legs in conjunction with surgery to remove my kidney stone, I soon found out I had another issue passed down from my father. Daddy also had suffered with blood clots and had to be on blood thinners. What I would learn next gave both Blake and me cause for worry. I was diagnosed with Factor V Leiden, a mutant gene I inherited from Daddy that makes me predisposed to blood clots. I hated to even tell Blake.

“Really?” Blake asked, with more than a touch of sarcasm in his voice when I told him. “I guess I’ll just add it to the list of gifts from you and Papa!” We joked about it but it was no joke that Blake had a 50 percent chance to inherit that gene from me.

I wouldn’t let it rest until he had his blood tested. I prayed, worried and hoped that this was one thing he didn’t receive from me since he is so much like me. Last week, we got the great news that he doesn’t have the genetic mutation. Boy, was I relieved that in this case, Debra’s genes had overpowered mine.

Everyone’s DNA is established when we are conceived. How it plays out in our lifetimes remains unknown until the time comes for it to be revealed. No matter how we raised Blake, at this time we simply have no control over his DNA. We took care of our part of that more than 31 years ago.

I jokingly told Blake the other day when we talked, “Keep looking over your shoulder because those Ballard kidney stones may still be coming your way!”

“That’s not funny, Pops,” Blake replied.

“You’re very right,” I replied. “Believe me, kidney stones are not funny at all.”

More with Mark

• Join Mark at the Museum of Aviation from 3-5 p.m. Feb. 9 as part of the museum’s Winter Wonderfest. Besides Mark’s demonstration, activities include a dinner theater, 5K run, arts and crafts show, activities for the kids and much more. For more information, call 478- 926-2791 or visit www.museumofaviation.org.

• Visit www.markballard.com for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff including Mark’s tees, prints, cards and his collectible porcelain plates.

• Mark is on www.macon.com 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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