Go Red for Women: Getting serious about heart health impacts us all

by Kim Thomas

This article appears on page 14 of the February 2015 print issue of HJ.

We watch our menfolk grow their beards in November (the ENTIRE month), we don our only green tee-shirt on St. Patrick’s Day to honor tradition; and on one day in February, we are asked to wear the color of our very lifesource, the rich red blood that carries nutrients to our bodies, heals our wounds and makes us able to enjoy life as we know it, to bring about awareness of women’s heart health. For without the heart, the blood would be as useless as a 1973 Pinto. If each year, we can teach one or two more of our children to wear red on this day in the second month of the new year, we can establish a tradition of honor and recognition, along with awareness that 1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke … but it can be prevented.

From babies to ladies, heart problems still affect our daily lives. My baby sister was born with a heart murmur and had to have a pulmonary valvotomy — surgical cutting of a constricted cardiac valve to relieve obstruction — in 1968 when she was only 5 years old. It was one of the first of its kind on a child; she had her open-heart surgery performed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The surgery was successful, the valve was opened sufficiently, and blood flowed through her heart and lungs at the proper rate to keep her healthy for years to come. She grew strong and healthy, and went on to grow to be the tallest of us four gals, smart as a whip, and scored 44 points (!) in a high school basketball game just 10 years later!

Kelli’s heart condition gave us a special introduction to heart healthiness, yet I still allowed my heart to be put in danger. Whatever was not bacon-wrapped in my life always came with a side of gravy, and though I’ve somehow dodged diabetes, I have high blood pressure, been diagnosed with a PVC, and next week, just for shiggles, by golly gosh, I get to have an echocardiogram! I am afraid, but committed to awareness and health.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer. But there’s a leadership role just waiting for women like you to pounce on: Leading the charge to end this deadly foe once and for all.

In fact, women like Rachel D’Souza-Siebert have already decided they’re not going to take this lying down. “As women,” says Rachel, “we need to learn where to draw the line so we can take care of ourselves.” Rachel isn’t the only one. She’s one of thousands of women who’ve decided to Go Red, because enough is enough.

Cheryl Holmes thought pregnancy was the reason for her extreme sweating and difficulties breathing. Even Cheryl’s doctor was convinced pregnancy was the source of her symptoms. When they didn’t subside after the birth of her child, she discovered these symptoms were a sign of heart disease.

Unfortunately, Cheryl’s story isn’t uncommon. Many women are either unaware of the symptoms to pay attention to or may attribute their symptoms as due to other causes. For instance, that pain in your jaw, neck or back? Don’t assume it‘s just from the gym or a little extra stress.

The American Heart Association reports that symptoms of heart attacks in women often include the conventional signs (pressure, chest pain, shortness of breath), but women are more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Extreme fatigue, lightheadedness, abdominal pain, and flu-like symptoms often occur in women who are having a heart attack. Many women who’ve had cardiac events report misdiagnosing themselves with the flu or acid reflux.

Knowledge is power, and this is the leadership role you were born to take on. The strength of mothers, sisters, daughters and friends, fighting side by side is more powerful than any killer. It’s time to shout louder, stand stronger and demand change. So, what do you say? Are you ready to jump in and join the fight? We hope so. Because together, we can put an end to heart disease. Women, it’s time to Go Red.

There is plenty of help at heart.org to give you direction when chaos occurs, i.e., when someone has a heart attack or stroke – go to heart.org and learn the symptoms, teach them to your children, and say them like a rosary or grace, every day.

National Wear Red Day is February 6.
The 2015 Central Kentucky Heart Ball is Friday February 20 at the Lexington Center, Bluegrass Ballroom. 


10 Ways to Go Red

1. Know Your Heart Score

Learn why it’s important to know your heart score on Go Red. Think you are eating right and getting enough exercise? It takes five minutes to make sure. Take the My Life Check and find out where you stand. You can also take the Go Red Heart CheckUp to get more tailored advice and information to improve your heart health.

2. Live Healthy

Learn new ways to prevent heart disease with heart-healthy recipes, exercises and more on Go Red For Women. Our team of cardiologists, medical and fitness experts and nutritionists offer their advice to women like you for living a healthy lifestyle.

3. Know the Signs of a Heart Attack

Watch Go Red For Women’s “Just a Little Heart Attack” video, starring and directed by Elizabeth Banks, to learn how to identify a heart attack. Learn more about the symptoms of a heart attack and stroke on Go Red.

4. Start Walking

Get moving and start walking by starting or joining a walking club with friends or coworkers with the help of the American Heart Association. Sign up, get resources and even coordinate your group online!

5. Wear Red

Brighten your wardrobe and support women fighting heart disease by wearing red and explaining what Going Red means. You can also get a free Go Red For Women pin on the Go Red website.

6. Host a Wear Red Day Event.

7. Help Your Community Go Red

Help your community Go Red by becoming a Go Red For Women volunteer and encourage local businesses to support Go Red For Women.

8. Go Red Online

Turn your Twitter or Facebook profile picture red using the Red Dress image.

9. Shop for the Cause

There’s never been a better reason to shop online! Go to ShopHeart to purchase products, apparel and more that features the Go Red or American Heart Association logo. One hundred percent of our net proceeds goes toward education about heart disease and stroke.

10. Support Go Red

Create a fundraising page as an individual or for a group. Improve your health, set an example and get friends, colleagues and family involved by attaching your fundraiser to an activity, like an upcoming run or walk in your community.

Each year, one in three women die of heart disease and stroke, but we can change that because 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes.

Whether it’s by living a healthy lifestyle, supporting women like yourself, or getting involved in the cause, you can find everything you need to make a change.

Heart Stories

This muscle that keeps us going may seem indestructible, but it is made of flesh and blood and its miracle must be respected by every generation. This past summer my youngest brother died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 45. He had no prior symptoms; was living a happy life, and there were no warning signs –he collapsed and died and we never got to say goodbye.

Shortly thereafter, my friend and former roommate Patty died from a brain bleed. Her youngest son wanted to call 911 the night before when her speech was slurring and she was nauseated, but she insisted he not call. My dear friend Kathy, who is only in her 30s, had a heart attack this past July, but she did not have any of the classic symptoms, that is, symptoms as we know them. She is not a heavy smoker, is active and vibrant and never seems tired, but one day she felt weird in her heart area, and it lasted throughout the day. Eventually a stent was placed in her heart and she is doing much better, but she warns me constantly to get my heart checked out when I have pain or sore feelings, fluttering or tightness in my chest. I thank God that I know someone like her, because she is the one who made me finally see the cardiologist. Her new-found second-chance at life is inspiring.

About 15 years ago, a friend who convinced me of the concept feng shui and many other of life’s mysteries, had a massive coronary just after turning 50. I met Mary after the heart event, she was walking every day, attending Shakespeare in the Park, interested in everything fascinating and political, still loved lobster and shrimp on the barbie, and still smoked, a lot. Her heart attack was part of what inspired her to take a cross-country personal bucket list challenge. She moved to Las Vegas, then Oregon, and then back to Kentucky. She held her tiny granddaughter’s hand before passing quietly in the shadow of the hills of eastern Kentucky.

All this is to serve as a reminder that is always a good idea to take ownership of your actions. Override your mother’s veto on calling 911. Don’t ignore when your heart flutters or feels weird or as if there are minnows conducting school in your chest. Call 911! Do you remember Disco? If a teenager or adult collapses in front of you, did you know CPR compressions using the beat of “Staying Alive” provides the perfect rhythm to save a life? So, if someone collapses, remember “Staying Alive! Staying Alive!”

1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke; but it can be prevented. Go Red for Women on February 6.

This article appears on page 14 of the February 2015 print edition of HJ.

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