Today, 8 million women in the United States are living with heart disease, and 35 million are at risk. According to American Heart Association, heart diseases cause one in three deaths in women.* Heart disease affects more women than men and is the leading cause of death in the nation. Fortunately, heart disease can often be prevented by making healthy choices and managing health conditions. During February—American Heart Month—and throughout the year, activities raise awareness and inform about the threat of heart disease.

LOCAL SYMPOSIUM EDUCATES AND EMPOWERS WOMEN WITH HEART DISEASE

Fifteen years ago, the Women’s Heart Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease in Washington, D.C. developed an education and advocacy program for women living with heart disease. The WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium at Mayo Clinic is the only national volunteer training program that prepares women with heart disease to be community educators, advocates, spokespersons and support network coordinators. 

Each year since 2002, around 60 women from across the country are chosen through an application process to learn about heart disease and advocacy through hands-on activities and experiences. They tour treatment areas, hold stents in their hands and learn from physicians about treatments. Upon returning to their communities, these WomenHeart champions start support groups and educate others about heart disease. Including the most recent symposium in October 2016, Mayo Clinic and WomenHeart have trained more than 800 women throughout the country. Many of these women have been credited for saving someone’s life. 

Sharonne Hayes, M.D., founder of Mayo Clinic’s Women’s Heart Clinic, knows firsthand the stories of the women participants and the long-term relationships that continue to develop as a result of the symposium. “Listening to hundreds of women tell their stories over the years in this intimate setting has been incredibly rewarding, personally and professionally. The symposium has been one of the highlights of my work as a cardiologist,” she says. “My goal is to help patients lead heart healthy lives, whether they are trying to prevent illness or recover from a heart event. The symposium has enabled us to do that in a very personal way, and we are making a difference.”

NATIONAL ORGANIZATION RAISES AWARENESS AND FUNDS

You can celebrate National Wear Red Day by wearing red on February 3 to bring attention to the impact of heart disease on women. In addition, the Rochester Go Red For Women Luncheon will take place on Thursday, February 23 at Mayo Civic Center. This annual event for teens, women and even men raises awareness of and funds for heart disease—and its widespread impact is heartwarming.

You’ll learn the stories of local heart disease survivors—Katie Barth, Marnie Bigler, Jill Frieders and Julie Stanton—who will participate in a fashion show. Passion speaker Lola Montilla also will be featured. She is a young heart disease survivor and 15-year-old author of the book “Beautiful Scars.” Montilla was born with a rare congenital heart defect and later underwent open-heart surgery. Her life mission is to create awareness about congenital heart defects and to inspire others.

Go Red For Women in Rochester began in 2004 with its first luncheon in 2005, co-hosted by Dr. Sharon Mulvagh and Rochester Women magazine Publisher Jorrie Johnson. “The event includes educational opportunities, health screenings, keynote speakers, Macy’s Diva Salon, a delicious and heart healthy lunch and much more,” explains Sara Clausen, American Heart Association regional director and director for the Rochester Go Red For Women Lunch. For more information and tickets, go to heart.org/RochesterMNGoRed.

SPREAD THE WORD, MAKE A DIFFERENCE 

Whether you attend a special event or choose other activities such as hosting a group walk at work or including information in a newsletter about a heart healthy lifestyle, you can make a difference. You can make small changes to help yourself and your family, too, such as using different spices to season food instead of salt and becoming more active. Now is the time to join others to beat heart disease.

Trish Amundson is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

*http://www.theheartfoundation.org/heart-disease-facts/heart-disease-statistics/

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