When it comes to heart disease, family history matters

Heart Disease

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – He was the ultimate outdoorsman. Terry Tomalin was a familiar face in the bay area. As the outdoors editor for the St. Pete Times, he wrestled alligators and swam with sharks.

That’s why, when he suddenly died of a heart attack at age 55, no one could believe it.

His wife, Kanika Tomalin, said he was with their son, Kai, that day as he took a lifeguard test at the pool. Terry called his wife and asked her to come to the pool.

“It was very unusual because he sounded vulnerable and I knew something wasn’t quite right,” said Kanika.

They called an ambulance as a precaution and the paramedics couldn’t find anything wrong but suggested they take Terry to the hospital just to be safe.

“There was no urgency really. We drove separately, Kai and I, and talked about we would have for dinner,” Kanika said.

Terry coded (had a cardiopulmonary arrest) before they ever had a chance to talk with him again. He never regained consciousness. His main artery was blocked causing his heart to stop very quickly.

“It’s called the widow-maker and that was it,” Kanika said.

Suddenly, this larger than life, adventuresome outdoorsman was gone. Leaving behind his wife, 15-year-old son Kai and 12-year-old daughter Nia. The loss of Terry left a giant void in the family.

They knew heart disease ran in Terry’s family.

“My children never met their grandfather because he died of a heart attack before they were born. Terry never met his grandfather because of the same reason,” Kanika said.

It’s a cycle she wants to stop.

Kanika keeps Terry’s memory very much alive. She still tags him in her Facebook posts as she shares their children’s accomplishments. Kai is now a freshman at American University and Nia is a junior in high school.

Nia has found a way to share a piece of her dad’s spirit. She has started an afterschool program at recreation centers in St. Petersburg. She teaches underprivileged children about everything outdoors. From the history of mangroves to teaching them how to paddleboard.

“I do it because I feel like it honors the legacy of my Dad,” Nia said.

Kanika is deeply proud of both of her children and she gets choked up when she thinks of how well they are doing despite their loss.

“I really think they feel him in every step of their journey. They use it as a kind of fuel to guide their futures,” Kanika said.

Terry’s Facebook page is still public. It keeps all of his adventures alive. It also includes his favorite quote from Harry Morant, an Australian drover, horsemen, poet and soldier, “Live every day as if it were your last, for one day you’re sure to be right.”

News Channel 8 and WFLA’s Stacie Schaible will be gearing up for the 2019 Tampa Bay Heart Walk on Saturday to help support the fight against heart disease and stroke.

To join our team or to donate, click here.

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