Filed Under:  Health & Wellness

‘Go Red for Women’ call attention to heart disease among women

30th January 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

The month of February customarily focuses on affairs of the heart; and the American Heart Association is looking to raise awareness well beneath the surface; and with good reason.

Heart disease in the number one cause of death in America, and according to the AHA, a woman dies every minute in the United States from heart disease. More­over, it is twice as common in African-American women as in white women.

“This is why it’s so important to understand your personal risk factors and often-overlooked common symptoms, and to share that information with the women you love.” Dr. Corey Goldman, of Tulane Medical Center, states.

Locally, the AHA will hold the 2012 Go Red for Women luncheon to inform, educate and inspire women in the fight against heart disease. The event, in conjunction with the 9th Annual National Wear Red Day, takes place Friday, February 3 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, at 10am. Tickets are $100.00.

The luncheon is part of the national movement that encourages women to take charge of their heart health by making it a top priority so they can live stronger, longer lives. Guests can participate in free health screenings, free educational seminars and a silent auction. Local women affected personally by heart disease will also be on hand to share their stories.

This year’s featured speaker is Jamie Napolitano, a local heart disease and transplant survivor who is currently serving as one of only six national spokespersons for Go Red for Women. The program also includes a fashion show, featuring clothing from Chatta Box- in which local heart disease survivors will strut down the runway.

Women don’t have to wait until National Wear Red Day to begin taking preventative measures against heart disease.

“A free tool for women to check their personal heart health is available online at, http://my­” says Linzy Roussel Cotaya, Communications Director of the Greater Southeast Affiliate of the American Heart Association. “Once you take the assessment and get your score, it will then provide recommendations to you of how you can work to make improvements. This is the best tool to use to get a clear understanding of your personal heart healthy lifestyle.”

Though the importance of breast and prostate cancer screening and detection has become widespread, the urgency regarding cardiovascular disease has been almost nonexistent. Hopefully, the startling figures provided by the American Heart Association are enough to make women in the African American community not only take notice, but take action.

The AHA states that among non-Hispanic Blacks age 20 and older, 44.8 percent of men and 47.3 percent of women have Cardiovascular Disease. In 2008, Cardiovascular Disease caused the deaths of 46,819 Black males and 49,819 Black females. Between the 1990s and 2005, incidence rates of stroke decreased for whites, but not for Blacks. The changes for whites were driven by a decline in ischemic strokes. There were no changes in incidence of ischemic stroke for Blacks.

In 2008 stroke caused the deaths of 7,222 Black males, while 9,488 Black females died from a stroke.

During the same year, mortality data showed that high blood pressure caused the deaths of 6,370 Black males and 7,002 Black females. Angina (chest pain or discomfort caused by reduced blood supply to the heart muscle) is more common in women than in men. Among non-Hispanic Blacks age 20 and older, 5.6% of women have angina, in comparison to 3.3% of men.

A 2007 Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals survey showed 30% of deaths in our state were related to cardiovascular disease-more women than men are dying of the disease in the New Orleans area and in the state of Louisiana.

Despite statistics that show only one in six women believing that heart disease is their greatest health threat, 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. These factors include higher cholesterol levels, high blood pressure rates, obesity, diabetes and lack of physical activity.

In 2004, New Orleanian Essence Harris believed something was wrong when she began experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath; the latter, she experienced not only from daily workouts, but even when carrying her son or groceries. She was an active 30-year old who didn’t smoke, had low cholesterol and didn’t suffer from high blood pressure. At the time, Harris also worked part-time as a personal fitness trainer.

“They (doctors) looked at me and asked ‘what is this from?’” Harris said. “I was told I was likely having anxiety attacks and should take three days off from work.” But she knew otherwise.

Finally, Harris found a cardiologist who listened. After numerous tests showing no problems, she was administered a treadmill stress test. While on the treadmill, both Essence Harris and her cardiologist knew something was wrong.

Her doctor scheduled an emergency angiogram that showed severe coronary artery disease in two major arteries. He immediately performed angioplasty to clear her arteries and Harris now has three permanent stents to keep her arteries open. She will take medication and will visit her doctor regularly for the rest of her life. Now 37, she says she is ‘living life to the fullest and taking the necessary steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle.’ Harris currently volunteers with the National Coalition of Women with Heart Disease as a Women Heart Champion; she educates and helps in the fight to improve the heart health and quality of life of women living with or at risk of heart disease.

“It is important to schedule your routine doctor’s appointments in order to take charge of your overall health,” Harris told The Louisiana Weekly.” “Be prepared with a list of questions for the doctor of concerns or issues you may have. Don’t ignore the warning signs, Listen to your body – it will never lie.

“Young women should prioritize your to-do lists and do those things that are important and bring value to your life – this is what saved my life since I was wearing so many hats as a mom, daughter, professional, and community volunteer,” she adds. “I learned after my event that I have family history of all heart related risk factors even though I did not have any at the time.”

The AHA is looking for women like Essence Harris, who are willing to share their stories. A casting call will be held in conjunction with the luncheon; urging local female heart disease survivors to tell their story for a chance to become a national spokesperson for the cause; representing Go Red for Women in marketing materials, at events, and on the Go Red For Women website. Jamie Napolitano was discovered and chosen to serve as the 2012 spokesperson as a result of her participation in last year’s casting event.

“The heart is the most talked about organ in the body—poets write about the heart, authors rhapsodize about the heart, and when we express compassion or condolences, we often say ‘my heart goes out to you,’” says Barbara Turner Windhorst, 2012 New Orleans Go Red For Women Co-Chair. “As women, it is our responsibility to make certain that we speak to one another’s hearts and determine that this year fewer women will die from cardiovascular disease.”

This article was originally published in the January 30, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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