Good for the Heart
Heart disease and stroke are the leading killer of women in this country and one in three women lives with cardiovascular disease. And while every 80 seconds a woman dies from some type of heart disease, 80 percent of it is preventable. Those are the sobering statistics at the core of the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign. This month Jim Hummel hears from two women featured locally in this year’s campaign - and CVS Health, which has committed to raising $10 million over the next three years for cardiovascular research and education.
Click here for more information about Go Red For Women.
It was all shades of red as far as the eye could see across the 5th-floor ballroom of the Rhode Island Convention Center last month, as women - and men - gathered for this year’s Go Red for Women luncheon.
The annual event focuses on women’s heart health issues; and this year, in addition to the 700 people who came for the lunch, there were multiple workshops and information stations just off the ballroom leading up to main event.
You probably have heard about Go Red for Women, which the American Heart Association launched nationally in 2004.
But here’s what you might not know.
Melissa: ``Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women and 80 percent of heart disease is preventable.’’
Melissa Cummings is a senior vice president at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and chairwoman of this year’s Go Red campaign. Along the way she got an unexpected - and very personal - primer on heart health.
Her Mom, Donna Daniels, began experiencing shortness of breath last fall. A nurse by training, she had always watched her diet and exercised religiously. But it was nagging jaw pain that finally sent Donna to see a doctor.
Melisssa: ``That came up as one of the leading symptoms of heart disease, or heart issues, for women in particular. We often hear about pain travelling down a left arm, that’s typically more a male thing, although it can certainly happen to women, that didn’t happen to her. The jaw pain was really the trigger.’’
Fortunately Donna did not have a heart attack, but Melissa says it would only have been a matter of time. She received stents and is now good to go.
Melissa, who spoke at last month’s luncheon, had several questions for the audience.
Melissa: ``I asked for survivors in the room to stand, and then I asked for caregivers, people who have taken care of someone who’s had an episode related to heart disease or stroke. I asked, then, who has been impacted - either themselves or in their friends or family - by diabetes or high blood pressure. And to be honest, Jim, that’s when the floodgates opened. And standing on that stage and looking out across that room it was in that questions around diabetes and high blood pressure that the majority of the room stood up. And then I asked if anyone had anyone in their family, or friends or a colleague impacted by heart disease and to my eye standing on that stage, I’m not sure there was anyone left in their seat.’’
So the American Heart Association stresses education and awareness. And just last month CVS Health pledged to raise $10 million over the next three years to support cardiovascular research and education.
Throughout the month of February CVS stores like this one in North Smithfield encouraged patrons to donate to the American Heart Association. CVS’s Eileen Howard Boone said AHA is a good - and natural - fit for her company.
Eileen: ``From a woman’s perspective, from just an overall heart disease perspective, it’s the No. 1 killer of women, so we really need to be part of it, we really need to align ourselves with the smartest people in the industry. And American Heart doesn’t just focus on the research, doesn’t just focus on the advocacy, it’s helps engage and empower women to know about their health.’’
Boone said CVS offered free health screenings last month at its Minute Clinics, which let participants find out their levels for cholesterol, HDL (or good) cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as blood pressure and body mass index.
Eileen: ``I am the daughter of a heart attack survivor. It’s very important to me that women not only understand those numbers but that they understand the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. My mom didn’t know she was having a heart attack and as a result had a much worse health outcome than we wanted for her. If she knew she was having a heart attack and got in earlier the outcome.
CVS also is donating six CPR Training Kits like this one to four local schools in Rhode Island. Last week Amanda Leite with the American Heart Association brought one of the kits and spoke to a health class at Beacon Charter School in downtown Woonsocket. A bill passed in 2015 makes CPR training a requirement for high school students to graduate.
The kit includes inflatable manikins, training DVDs and 10 automatic external defibrillator training simulators, among others things.
Kristina: ``They told me I was never going to play sports again.’’
And it’s not just heart disease. Kristina Hill had a stroke seven years ago at the age of 14 - after she arrived home from middle school one day.
Kristina: ``I called my mom and told her there’s something wrong with me and you need to come home. Couple of hours later I found myself in my bedroom, still throwing up and I found myself in the bathroom, but I don’t remember how I got there. There was something drastically wrong, like I literally thought I was dying ‘cause I couldn’t move.’’
Hummel: ``And your speech…’’
Kristina: ``My speech, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t sit up.’’
Kristina, who was a star hockey player at the time, wound up at Children’s Hospital in Boston, where her parents got the inconceivable news.
Kristina: ``Mr. and Mrs. Hill, your daughter has had a stroke. And I’m sitting there like, so what’s a stroke? Am I going to be at my hockey tournament this weekend? That was my main concern.’’
Hummel: ``Because who at 14 has even heard of a stroke?’’
It has been a long road back, but the girl who doctors thought might not walk again is a sophomore at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts and plays on the women’s soccer team.
Hummel: ``Was your goal all along always to get back on a field and the ice?’’
Kristina: ``Yeah, 100 percent.’’
Hummel: ``There were some people who told you, you weren’t going to do it.’’
Kristina: ``It was never going to happen. And my mentality was like you’re telling me I’m never going to walk again and not to even think about sports. But I’m going to tell you that I’m going to walk again and I’m going to show you that I can play sports again. Being on the field now….I can’t even put words to it. It’s like THE best feeling knowing that I get to do what I love again: 41
Kristina and Melissa’s mom Donna were both recognized at the Go Red luncheon last month.
Kristina also regularly volunteers to speak to school assemblies like this one at Norwood Middle School outside of Boston a couple of weeks ago. She was on hand with a local representative of the American Heart Association to encourage the kids to participate in a fundraising event call Hoops for Heart.
Kristina: ``It really hits home because I go and speak at a middle school and I go which one of you guys are in 8th grade? And a bunch of 8th-graders hands go up. Well I was in 8th grade when I had my stroke, And everyone in the room is like….you can hear a pin drop.’’
And Kristina, a communications major, wants to work for The American Heart and American Stroke Associations after she graduates. She’s already a seasoned booster.
Kristina: ``No matter how much money they raise, 50 cents or a dollar, you’re helping somebody in the hospital., you’re helping that little girl or boy that they say won’t walk again.’’
This year’s organizers of the Go Red For Women campaign worked hard to include men as well. And they hope those who were there will take the message - and awareness - beyond the luncheon.
Hummel: ``And so many people think heart disease, they immediately think men.
Melissa: ``They think men, they think obese maybe, people who are smoking, they think people who are doing all of the things that we know potentially aren’t things we shouldn’t be doing.’’
Hummel: ``And your mom looked in pretty good shape.’’
Melissa: ``My mother is the exact opposite of that.’’
Hummel: ``She’s the antithesis of what you would think of as the stereotype.’’
Melissa: ``That’s exactly right. Go Red is central to the point of raising awareness. First you have to know heart disease is something you should be thinking about and how prevalent it is. And how frankly, not sexy it is. It’s not sexy and it’s not visible and it’s not something you can look at somebody and say `Oh, they have heart disease.’ That is some of, frankly, the challenge in creating a conversation about why it’s so important.’’
It’s a conversation they hope will continue throughout the year.
In Providence, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.