Remembering Cari

Remembering Cari

I was attending my first WomenHeart meeting two years ago.  The meeting was starting, and I quickly found a seat, sitting next to Caridad (Cari).  There were maybe 25 – 30 women present and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Sometimes, the meetings have speakers or activities, but this evening was dedicated to sharing.  I was to learn that taking the time to listen and learn from other heart patients, is an invaluable tool for all.  As it came time for Cari to share, she started to tear up.  In addition to heart disease, Cari had several other serious health issues.  Having an opportunity to express her problems was difficult, yet she did so with profound dignity.

She told us about her Vision Board. It had words of encouragement, pictures of loved ones, and a photograph of the beach – a place she associated with peace and serenity. The first thing every morning she would look at it.  It would lighten her load and help her start her day with feelings of thankfulness.  At the end of the meeting, I spoke with her and our group leader, Annie, about having a Vision Board party for our WomanHeart group.

In January 2017, we had our VB party.  What a great time.  After working on our boards,  we shared our completed projects with everyone.  Here is Cari with her Vision Board along with Annie de Velasco, Andee Weiner and me.  What a happy moment.

As I look at Cari’s Vision Board, I see pictures of her family and of course her beautiful beach.  Most prominently we find the word, GRATITUDE, something integral to her well-being.

Cari passed away early last week.  In the song, Seasons of Love, from the musical, Rent, we are asked, “How do you measure the life of a woman or man?”  The answer is, “Measure your life in love.”  Cari exuded love.  I am so grateful I had the opportunity to know her, if only for a brief time.

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DO AS I SAY…

DO AS I SAY…

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.