Teen battles high blood pressure and family health history

Richard Rodriguez's blood pressure is normal - 108/72 - a really good sign.

"That's the best reading we've had in a long time," says Rodriguez's mother Jennifer Wilson

The 18-year old's mom says they come from a long line of "big" people stalked by cardiovascular disease.

"My father died at the age of 46, when I was 3 or 4 years old, from a heart attack," said Wilson. "My mother had a stroke by the time I was 9."

And two years ago, just before Christmas, Richard's father Abel, who had long struggled with his weight, blood pressure and diabetes had a massive stroke at 53.

"He'd had a severe headache for several weeks. And had not had his blood pressure or diabetes treated for a long time," recalled Wilson

Richard's father ended up on life support here in Grady's Neuro Intensive Care Unit. It took two surgeries to stop the bleeding in his brain. He survived, but is now severely disabled. And his stroke was a turning point for his son.

"I was scared. I had become an adult that day," said Rodriguez.

His mom added "A frightening light bulb. A shattering light bulb is how I would put it. It was a wakeup call."

Because Richard, then just 16, had been having headaches for months.

"And I keep popping ibuprofen pills to keep it down, and the next day it would come back," Rodriguez said.

The problem? Very high blood pressure. He came for a cardiovascular screening with pediatric cardiologist Dr. Eduardo Montana at Children's Cardiovascular Medicine, who recommended serious lifestyle changes and pretty aggressive medical treatment.

"He's on a medication to reduce his high triglycerides. He's on a medication to control his blood pressure. And he's on another medication to lower his blood sugar. He's got insulin resistance," said Montana, Chair, Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia.

Richard loves his dad, but says he doesn't want to follow in his footsteps. Dr. Montana believes he doesn't have to if he lowers his risk-factors now. But Montana he worries many teens and young adults are falling through the cracks when it comes to cardiovascular disease.

"I'm on a mission to try to get more people screened. I think there are a lot of undiagnosed kids out there who need to know what their risk is. And they're really at increased risk and could l benefit from screening and treating," said Dr. Montana.

Richard Rodriguez has lost 28 pounds, and is exercising and eating smaller portions. It's the beginning, he hopes of a better life.

"Because I want to live. I don't want to end up like him."