Did you know nearly 50 million women are living with heart disease? It is true! February is Heart Health Awareness Month, and certainly there is an effort to educate women about their heart risk.
During the past three years, the Red Dress campaign has elevated awareness significantly. Now, more than half of women will identify heart disease as the number one killer of women. However, only 17% of them recognize it as a threat to themselves!
Yes, it is the old, “but that’s not me” syndrome!
In my quest to change the way America sees heart disease, I have developed a new tool: The Embrace Your Heart Champions. The stigma of heart disease prevents most female survivors from speaking up – using their own experience to inform others, to make a change for the better. I myself, when I began speaking for the American Heart Association would not allow them to say I had heart disease. Certain that people would think it was somehow my fault; I shielded myself from the stigma. To this day, interviewers will often ask if I wasn’t taking care of myself, or was out of shape, or didn’t eat well.
These days I am very proud to be the face of a woman with heart disease and stand up to the stigma. As I travel this year, I am searching for other survivors who bravely share their stories. By celebrating these Champions, we will bring new faces and voices to the cause and change how we see heart disease.
What is the difference between a survivor and a champion?
Survivors are lucky. Champions are brave.
I am happy to introduce our first Embrace Your Heart Champion, Kay Marie Kortas.
A seemingly healthy and energetic 34-year-old kindergarten teacher, Kay Marie thought she had the flu. But after describing her dizziness, fatigue, and chest pain to a nurse over the phone, she was told to call 911. She arrived at the hospital in time to stop her heart attack. In good shape and active, her condition was a puzzle. Doctors saved her life with a quadruple bypass and she began her recovery. After missing nearly an entire year of school, Kay Marie returned to the classroom, only to have to miss the year again she again needed surgery – this time a quintuple bypass!
Frustrated by her continuing decline, Kay Marie endured stenting and drug therapy hoping for a cure. Finally, after going to the Mayo Clinic, Kay Marie was diagnosed with a “one-in-a-million” condition: Takayasu’s Arteritis, which caused inflammation in her cardiac vessels. She had a diagnosis and a treatment plan: a year and a half of steroids.
The steroids eliminated the inflammation, but wreaked havoc with her body. She gained weight, developing the typical “moon-face” associated with steroid treatment and struggled to keep up her spirits.
Yet, when many people would just lie down, Kay Marie never gave up. She gave of her time and energy to help others through the American Heart Association. She hired a trainer and regained her stamina and strength.
Her determination never faltered. In the fall of 2005 she returned to the classroom and this time was with her students the entire year!
Today she is a shining example for her students and an amazing advocate for the American Heart Association.
Congratulations Kay Marie! You are a true champion!
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Eliz Greene is the Busy Woman’s Guide to a Health. Drawing on her experience surviving a massive heart attack while seven-months pregnant with twins, struggling to lose the 80 pounds gained during her pregnancy, and her background as an adaptive movement specialist, Eliz developed simple strategies and tips to help other busy women be more active, eat better and manage your stress.
As the Director of the Embrace Your Heart Wellness Initiative, Eliz travels the country energizing and inspiring audiences in keynotes and workshops on women’s heart health. She writes one of the top 100 health and wellness blogs. Find more at www.EmbraceYourHeart.com.