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.


Remembering the 2017 WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium – Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

Remembering the 2017 WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium – Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

“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.




It’s Oscar time.  Do you recall some of those acceptance speeches?   Winners, I’ve heard,  aren’t supposed to speak more than 45 seconds.

I thought about this due to a recent “win” of my own.  In my case there were so many people working in the background to assure my victory, I figured the music would start playing before I’d get through half the names on my list.

My award is for a little drama entitled, “The Road to Recovery.”  Hillary once said, when it comes to rearing children, ”It takes a village.”  The same could be said of all those who help you recover from a traumatic health event.  I rarely got last names of the many I encountered, so for my “recovery acceptance speech,” I’ll just use first names. That being said, here is Sharon’s acceptance speech:

“Oh my God, I can’t believe this.  I won!  There are so many people to thank.  First of all, I have to thank my directors.  Yep, most people have 1 director, I had 2. Dr. Rosa Garcia and Dr. Ramon Quesada, without whom recovery might not have been possible.  Then there is my Emergency Room RN,  Johanna.   She assured me that while the diagnosis was not what I wanted to hear,  recovery was more than likely.

“Thank you to Lauren an RN, who replaced Johanna as shifts changed in the ER.  While readying me for a trip to the Cath Lab, Lauren continued to give me assurance.  It was about this time I met Samuel, a Cardiac transport worker.  What can I say about Samuel?  I was clearly distressed so he started a conversation.  ‘Who is your cardiologist?’  When I said it was Dr. Quesada, he said, ‘Wow, you’re lucky, he’s outstanding.’

“In the Cath Lab, thank you to Peggy, an RN whose sense of humor and uplifting personality were so helpful.  Thank you to Patty an RN, who explained that while I would be awake for the procedure, all would be OK.  Then she gave me an intravenous ‘cocktail.’  There were so many others in the lab busy preparing for the cath.  Someone introduced me to a ‘pizza board’ (well that’s what they called it) and soon the procedure was over.

“Thank you to Juan an RN who found extra blankets — I was freezing.  He and Samuel took me to my room.  More relaxed, I heard Samuel saying, ‘See, I told you everything would be OK.’

(music starts playing)

“OK, OK.  Let me finish.  I didn’t think directors would visit you early in the morning, but there was Dr. Garcia the next morning.

“For the next couple of days, I was surrounded by so many caring people.   Brittney my RN, who put up with my incessant questions  (what can I say, I’m a Type A personality and a control freak as well).   Monica,  Ashley,  Fernando, Abigail and Cachaundra all monitored my blood pressure and  EKG, every few hours.  An especial shout out to Abigail, who I scared half to death when she came to take blood in the middle of the night.  I awoke with such a start, I almost hit her.  Thanks also to Tammy from Housekeeping who was so cheerful and genuinely happy at my improvement

“Thank you to David and Lina from Cardiac Rehab who took me for short strolls around the floor and explained just what Cardiac Rehab was, and what to expect once enrolled in the program.

(music gets a little louder)

“Wait a minute guys.  Don’t you realize I might not be here if it weren’t for these folks?

“Thanks to Mike who brought me food (which actually tasted good) and thanks to the unseen folks who prepared it as well.  Thank you to the people in the various labs that I never saw, but monitored my health constantly.

“Finally to the Producers, Baptist Hospital.   I have no idea how you acquired such a fantastic team —  each had a combination of professionalism and empathy that was to say the least, outstanding.   Somehow you did.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some names, so please forgive my lack of memory.  Thank you all.”

A Funny Thing Happened During Meditation….

A Funny Thing Happened During Meditation….

As I mentioned in a previous post, years ago my girlfriend and I took a yoga class.  It was in the evening at a local high school.

The final pose in the class was dedicated to meditation.  Our teacher had an incredibly soothing voice and  instructed us to flex then relax muscles, starting at our head and working down to our feet.  Then, using ‘guided meditation,’ she took us on a journey describing an idyllic place.  As she spoke, I could visualize a beautiful hillside above a lake.  I could hear the movement of the water, the only other sound was my breathing.  I could smell the grass and feel the warmth of the sun.  It was a perfect moment of tranquility.  I was mindful of her words as I focused on the moment.

“Now you are floating on a cloud.  As you look down, you can see yourself lying on the grass, you can see the clouds mirrored in the lake.  You are at peace.”



I sat up and looked around.  Where was my lake?  Where was the sun?  Where was the grass?  That wonderful, blissful peaceful moment was gone.

Once home it was back to  the mundane, clean up the kitchen, finish some laundry, make sure all was ready for tomorrow, and then time for sleep.

The following morning my alarm went off.  I sat up in bed.  The sheets were a grassy green, the walls a pale yellow.  Confused I thought, “where the heck am I?” Then, “wait a minute, WHO AM I?”  I just sat there looking at the unfamiliar, unaware of who or where I was.  I don’t think it lasted more than 30 seconds — however, it was the longest 30 seconds of my life.

I worked at a large medical center and while eating lunch, I mentioned what had happened to a friend (who also happened to be a psychiatrist).  “Wasn’t that weird?  I’ve never awakened not knowing where I was, much less who I was.”

“What did you do last night?”

“Went to a yoga class with Ro.”

“Did anything unusual happen?”

“Not really, oh the damn bell went off right in the middle of meditation.”

“Really, was the teacher guiding you through meditation?”

“Well yes, she was talking about our lying in the grass, and then we were up in a cloud looking at our body beneath us, and then the bell went off.”

Hmmm, ANOTHER BELL JUST WENT OFF!  Yep, it was a post hypnotic suggestion.

Last Thursday a friend at Toastmasters was telling me about her Yoga class.  She couldn’t find enough superlatives to describe it.  I was pretty candid about my experiences, but she invited me to her class anyway — me, with the broken toe and the post hypnotic suggestion.  More unbelievable, was my response.  I said, “Yes.”  Should I survive, I’ll let you know how it goes!





Truth be told, I don’t think Maynard was discussing the type of flexibility for which I am looking.  Author of ‘Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship,’ Mr Webb has written a book about adapting to work in this age of the internet.

I, on the other hand, have been yearning for flexibility of movement.  While I’m not an expert on kinesiology, I have noticed that as you age the joints get stiff, and that wonderful suppleness of youth becomes a distant memory.  Not so, for my former yoga instructor from years ago.  I believe she was probably in her 60’s.  Just watching the spring in her step,  her agility and ‘stretchiness’ was inspiring.

Rereading a portion of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ and thinking back to my instructor, it occurred to me going to a yoga class was a good idea.  I googled Yoga and found a Hatha Yoga class not too far from my house.  And surprise, a beginners’ class was scheduled to start in one week!

On the first day, I found myself with a number of ladies ranging in age from twenty to perhaps seventy-something.  We were told some movements are easier than others but were assured that if we’d stick with it we would see improvement.  In my case, getting up and down gracefully is a challenge.  Mother had a reason for not selecting the name ‘Grace’ for her daughter.

The first thing we were asked to do was sit cross-legged while maintaining good posture.  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  I watched the others in the class.  Their knees were almost touching the floor.  Mine were up to my ears.  It was suggested that I sit on some towels, elevating my bum so my knees appeared to be closer to the floor.  “Oh, and watch that posture!”

Funny, I had no recollection of pain during my earlier classes.  Our instructor explained that most of us had spent many years sitting, standing and walking incorrectly.  “As a result, some of these poses may be difficult. But don’t worry, just stick with it.”  Good grief!  I had soooo many years of bad sitting, standing and walking to make up for!

I don’t recall perspiration dripping down my face in past classes, but I was beginning to feel it now.  The word ‘INFLEXIBLE’ was flashing before my eyes.  We moved on to standing poses: the Sun Salute, Downward Dog, but inevitably we were back on the floor in the Lotus Position.  “OMG, my hips won’t move, what am I going to do?”  Perhaps, the instructor saw the look of terror on my face, because she asked us to rise again and that’s when I stumbled.  I didn’t fall completely because I was able to catch myself — unfortunately with the second toe of my left foot.  Just as I was about to let out a gasping cry, I saw the sign:


“What?  You have to be kidding!”

The instructor was on to another pose — the ‘Warrior Pose.’  She tried to assist this warrior who couldn’t put pressure on her left foot and breathe at the same time.

The hour was almost over and it was time for the ‘Corpse Pose.’  “Are they going to put me out of my misery?”  Lying on my back, my toe throbbing, I awaited my fate.  Fortunately, it was only time for meditation.  And then our Instructor said, “Namaste.”  The class had ended.

I hoped my ‘corpse toe’ could be revived.  Too bad we didn’t have a video of me leaving the studio.  Limping and appearing to be wearing some kind of body armor, I was the personification of rigidity.  Yep, achieving flexibility does come with a cost.  Regrettably there’s no guarantee you will realize it.