After Sharon Epperson, CNBC's senior personal finance correspondent, survived a brain hemorrhage due to a ruptured aneurysm in September 2016, she devoted herself to learning more about her family's medical history.
Several relatives had passed away following brain hemorrhages in the past, but she'd never asked many questions about it.
"I did know that my mother's oldest sister and her father passed away from brain hemorrhages," Epperson told TODAY. "That was a word I had to learn as a young person, just to know their story. ... But I didn't understand how important family medical history can be even decades later."
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Epperson said that her grandfather passed away four months before she was born, and because the history seemed so distant, she had never mentioned it at her doctor's appointments. Her grandfather had died just a few months after her grandmother, so before her own hemorrhage, Epperson said it was easy to make it into a "romantic thing."
"Because that's what I do, I made it into a romantic thing where he passed away of this brain hemorrhage because he just couldn't go on because he missed his wife so much," she explained. "And I didn't really think about, medically, what a brain hemorrhage is and what the medical reasons could be behind that and what health factors might have led to that."
After she survived her brain hemorrhage in 2016, Epperson said that she began thinking about what her grandfather and aunt had experienced. She also found out that her great-grandfather had passed away from the same condition.
Now, Epperson is a part of a scientific study that looks at the brains of those who have survive brain hemorrhages.
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"This study is looking at the outcomes afterwards. You know, people have survived, but what kind of disabilities or what kind of challenges are they facing (after)?" she said. "And one of the aspects of it was to do some genetic testing, a saliva test, to look at the genetics of it. And I thought 'This is exactly why I'm still here, so that I can be part of the next generation of research that goes into why this happens.'"
Epperson said that she's also been thinking about the topic during Black History Month, as she discusses her family history.
"We have so many amazing stories that we're telling, but the stories that we don't tell so much are the ones that may seem dark, because it's why someone's no longer here, or why someone got sick, or why someone has or is living with a chronic illness," she said. "But it really can help to inform how we live our lives today, and how we live better lives in the future."
If you are interested in learning more about your family history, Epperson said that the best thing to do is just "start talking" to family members and "tell the stories" of relatives who have passed away.
"It's important to share the stories. It's not like you can just find out (medical history) unless someone really tells you about it," Epperson said. "You're not necessarily going to get medical records or something like that, but you can find out some information."
Sharing these stories is important for a number of reasons: Not only does it give people an idea of what health issues they should be aware of, it means that they can provide their doctor with a full picture of their medical history. It's especially important for older children who are going off to college or living on their own for the first time be able to identify their risks.
"I have an 18-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter and one of the things that I am learning from friends who have children who have gone off to college, as my son is going to be doing in the fall, they need to know, they need to have a record, and they need to have information about their parents' medical history and health history, and their own, of course," Epperson said. "... Sharing it, rather than shielding them from health information, is important."
This story originally appeared on TODAY.com
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