“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Nora Ephron
“Attending the symposium will be life-changing, and you’ll be surprised at how the stories of other women will impact you. In the end you will feel empowered.” So were the words of Ann de Velasco when she described what I might expect when attending the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium. So, what did I learn?
Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed in an ER. Women are more likely to have a second heart attack within 1 year of the first. The symptoms of a heart attack are often far different in women than in men. While there has been significant research and trials for heart disease, participants tend to be men. As Dr. Sharonne Hayes said at the symposium, “Women are not little men.” We have different hormones, women give birth to children. Our genetics are different from men. As a result, the best advice from a doctor is not necessarily the best advice. That advice is based on research that simply is not women inclusive.
WomenHeart is the National Coalition of Women with Heart Disease. A non-profit organization, we support other women through programs like SisterMatch, and HeartScarves. We let newly diagnosed women know they are not alone. WomenHeart educates women through local Support Networks and programs like Women at Work as well as presentations at Health Fairs. As survivors of the number 1 killer of Americans, we advocate on public policy and health care reform.
Fifty-eight women from all over the United States attended the symposium. All of us have heart disease — some of us have had heart attacks, others required valve replacement or repair. A few have arrhythmias — a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system. Some even required heart transplants. Our specific problems may be different, but upon completion of the symposium we became WomenHeart Champions, prepared to support other women with or at risk of getting heart disease.
To accomplish this, we addressed our ability to tell “our stories.” That turned out to be much more involved than we imagined. We had to make our stories short, captivating, and engaging — not an easy task.
Before I attended the symposium, I had a picture in my mind of what the face of a woman with heart disease would be. I figured it would be a face much like mine. So imagine my surprise when I met my “roomie,” Amy, a young woman in her 30’s. Nor did I expect to meet several other young women, who in the prime of their lives experienced SCAD (spontaneous coronary artery dissection). Heart disease does not discriminate when it comes to age or ethnicity.
Almost 2 months have passed since graduation. I was touched by the stories of my fellow graduates. For me the symposium was transformative. As mentioned above WomenHeart has 3 prongs — support, educate and advocate. So often you hear a phrase that begins with “We advocate for…” Too often the next word is “victims.” The women in my graduating class and previous classes are not victims — but survivors! Meet the class of 2017.