Steve McKee, a journalist and the author of a memoir about living in the shadow of family heart disease, died on Monday at Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y. He was 61 and lived in Troy, N.Y.
The cause of death was complications following surgery to repair a torn aorta.
McKee was 16 when, at home in York, Pa., one night in 1969, he watched his 50-year-old father suffer a fatal heart attack. The tragedy propelled McKee to devote himself to staying in shape. He ran a marathon in Alaska, completed a triathlon in New York, and lifted weights and pulled on a rowing machine for hours on end.
McKee first wrote about his lifelong effort to avoid his father's fate in The Wall Street Journal, where he worked as a copy editor for more than a decade. His stories received an outpouring of response, and McKee followed with a book, My Father's Heart: A Son's Journey (Da Capo Press, 2008).
Despite his best efforts, McKee was told after an extensive physical in 2005 that he, too, had heart disease. "It was devastating, absolutely devastating, because I never ever thought this was going to happen because I had spent all those years keeping myself in good to very good shape," McKee said in a 2008 interview on NPR.
"It took a while for me to realize that, no, even if I have heart disease I am not like that part of my father I didn't want to be," he said. "My dad I felt gave up. I had always fought against it. That is his legacy to me-I have always fought against it."
After the publication of My Father's Heart, McKee spoke to numerous health-care organizations about cardiovascular disease. He also wrote a one-man play based on the book, which was performed in workshops in Pennsylvania.
Stephen J. McKee was born in Ridgewood, N.J., on Nov. 17, 1952, and raised in York. He graduated from Allentown College of St. Francis DeSales (now DeSales University) in Allentown, Pa., and spent six years in Alaska, first with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps teaching at a native boarding school in the Alaskan bush, and later working and studying in Fairbanks.
McKee's first book, The Call of the Game, (McGraw-Hill, 1987), described his year-long odyssey attending more than 50 sporting events, from the Continental Team Tiddlywinks Championships to the Super Bowl. For Coach (Stackpole Books, 1994), an oral history of the profession, McKee interviewed hundreds of coaches in dozens of sports at all levels.
McKee joined the The Wall Street Journal as a copy editor in 1994. He was the first sports editor of the paper's Weekend Journal section and in 2001 was the first writer of its online sports column, "The Daily Fix."
He is survived by his wife, Noreen; their son, Patrick, also of Troy; and a sister, Kathleen McKee Hansen of Punta Gorda, Fla. Visitation will be held at the Joseph G. Duffy Funeral Home, Brooklyn, NY, from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday, April 4th followed by a Mass of Christian burial at the Oratory Church of St. Boniface at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 5th. The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Albany Medical Center Foundation, 43 New Scotland Avenue, Mail Code 119, Albany, NY, 11208.
In My Father's Heart, McKee wrote movingly about his personal genetic fate, but also about the cardiovascular health-care crisis facing millions of Americans and the need for individuals and institutions to do something about it.
"Every day, nearly 2,400 Americans die of cardiovascular disease's major heart breakers," he wrote. "That's one death every 36 seconds. If we could wave a magic wand and eliminate this scourge, we could all expect to live nearly seven years longer. If only."