Editor’s Note: Following is a speech given at Miracle Mile Toastmasters, February 8, 2018
WomanHeart is The National Coalition of Women WITH Heart Disease. If someone had asked me 5 or 10 years ago, if I would be active in an organization that had as a criterion for membership having a disease, I would have said, “Not me.” Yet here I am. Every WomenHeart Champion has heart disease, and each of us has a story.
Let’s get personal. On January 18, 2016, I awoke with the most horrible pain in my jaw. I couldn’t believe it. It felt as if I needed a root canal. I looked at the clock, it was 12:30 am. I went into the kitchen to get some water. As I walked, the pain began to subside. I was exhausted and thought, “Did I imagine that? I must have.” I went back to bed.
About 4 hours later, it happened again. I woke up with severe pain in my jaw. I’m smart enough to know that root canal pain does not come and then go on its own. What to do? Have you heard of Google? Yep, that’s what I did, I googled angina. What I read said it could be a heart attack, but then again, it might not. Being the outstanding diagnostician that I am, I deduced it was not. My doctor would be in the office in a couple of hours. I decided to wait (yet again) and call her. She said, “Go directly to the ER, do not pass go, do not collect $200.”
Ten and a half hours after the first pain, I was diagnosed. I’d had a heart attack.
Fast forward 1 year. I was at Cardiac Rehab exercising. I was pushing up the speed on a treadmill. I noticed some pressure in my jaw. No pain – just pressure. I stopped and had someone check my blood pressure. It was okay. I continued with my routine and only as I was leaving did I mention the mild discomfort I’d felt. The nurse looked at me as if I had 2 heads. “Why didn’t you tell me? You need to see your doctor right away.” I called my internist and explained what had happened. The next thing I knew I was in her office where the staff told me several times all would be OK. Oddly enough I wasn’t alarmed until the third, “you’ll be OK.” The next day I was at the cardiologist’s office, the next week in the cath lab. I didn’t have a heart attack. However, my Left Anterior Descending Artery (aka the Widowmaker) was 95% occluded, making it far more dangerous than the attack I’d had a year earlier.
What can you learn from my experience? You know the old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” What were my actions? I ignored symptoms, waited far too long to get help, even worse I diagnosed myself!
Considering that heart disease is the number 1 killer of men and women in the United States, here is what you should do:
Know your risks (some over which you have no control): If you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, or if you have a family history, you are at higher risk for developing heart disease.
Know your risks Part 2 (you can change these): If you’re a diabetic, if you are overweight or if exercise is lacking in your day — make changes to your routine, and diet. And for heaven’s sake STOP SMOKING!
Know your numbers: Is your cholesterol too high? What about your HDL and LDL? How are your triglycerides? Do you have hypertension? Remember the guidelines have changed.
All of these risks and numbers apply to everyone in this room. You may ask, “But, what is WomenHeart? Why is there a need for an organization just for women with heart disease?”
Let’s look at some facts and statistics. While 1 in 31 American women die of breast cancer (which is far too many) 1 in 3 dies of heart disease. Since 1984, more women than men have died from heart disease. Let’s say a woman goes to the best cardiologist on the planet. And that cardiologist gives the VERY BEST advice available. The reality is that “best advice” may not be the best at all. Doctors recommendations are often tied to the results of clinical trials. Today, women comprise less than 27% of the participants in cardiac trials. Women are not little men. Their biology is different.
Women’s symptoms during a heart attack are different as well. Yes, they may have chest pain, but they are likely to present with various indicators such as nausea, feeling light-headed, having extreme fatigue, pain or discomfort in the arm or shoulder, neck or back — and don’t forget my symptoms — pain in the jaw. With my second event there was NO PAIN — merely pressure in my jaw. Is it any wonder that women are often misdiagnosed?
The most important thing to do if you have any symptoms of a heart attack is to go the emergency room. Time is of the essence. Call 911 or have someone take you. Do not drive yourself.
Many of you work for companies in this area or belong to organizations that meet locally. WomenHeart has a program called WomenHeart@Work. We can design a power point meeting for members of your group, giving each participant facts about taking charge of their heart health. I have some of our “Bags of Courage” with information on protecting your heart health as well as my WomenHeart Business Card. Call me, and we will schedule a presentation, which will be a gift to your company, its employees or members of your organization.
I implore you to “do as I say.” Education can save the life of a colleague, friend, teammate or partner. Take this life-saving opportunity.