Life as I knew changed very quickly 917 days ago. Because of my family’s history of heart disease, I decided on a whim to schedule a preventative cardiology visit shortly after I turned 30. My mom had been unexpectedly diagnosed with a hole in her heart at age 54.
My diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy with only 10 percent of my heart functioning was very real and very serious. But I knew I was not losing my life that day; I was gaining my life, because I was one of the lucky women that received a diagnosis before it was too late.
Because of my diagnosis, my day now entails taking nine medicines a day (sometimes more), taking my blood pressure twice a day, checking my dry weight every morning, restricting my fluid intake, limiting my sodium, seeing lots of doctors, having multiple medical tests, living with a heart device and doctors tracking me so I can one day receive a heart transplant. Despite all of these drastic lifestyle changes, I have such a deep joy for living and where I am in my life.
Why do I have such a deep joy for living? Simple. I survived. Before I was diagnosed with heart disease, I had no idea that one woman died every single minute from heart disease. These women were mothers, daughters, grandmothers, friends, cousins, wives, aunts godmothers. These women were loved. They were cherished.
Heart disease is more than just a heart attack; it comes in many forms. We must know the signs of heart disease. We must always remember that we do not need anyone’s permission to see a cardiologist or any physician. Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. Do not be one of the women who lose their lives to heart disease each day.
What can you do to reduce your risk of heart disease? First, you have to make up your mind that you can make a lifestyle change. Then I recommend you try the following:
1. Remove processed foods from your diet
2. Replace 90% of your entire fluid intake with water
Rather than choosing a candy bar when you want something sweet, choose fresh cherries or another favorite fruit. When you are thirsty, choose water over a soft drink. Every small change leads to a big difference!
Heart disease doesn’t make me sad, nervous, angry, or frustrated. It makes me afraid of missing my sweet little girl grow up. My biggest fear is that she will forget me. She’s so little. Just a tiny four-year-old peanut. I want her to know me…her mom…not just stories of her mom or videos of her mom or pictures of her mom. I want her to be able to wrap her arms around my neck, dance with me to “her music,” and tell me to do it all again!
The Go Red For Women movement literally saved my life. I remembered hearing through this campaign that heart disease can run in families. That led me to scheduling my cardiology check-up. The movement has empowered me to teach others about heart disease.
The American Heart Association also developed life-saving technology that is in my chest which keeps my heart from going into sudden cardiac arrest. Each day that I see the scar across my chest, I am reminded that I have another day to fight this battle. Not everyone is as lucky as I am. I am the voice for those that can no longer speak because they lost their battle.
Not all battles are fought by the big and mighty. Some warriors are five-foot-three with green eyes and dark brown hair. Some warriors pack a punch with something as small as their voice.
I am the mother of a wonderful four year old, the wife of an amazing husband, the daughter to incredible parents, and someone who does not want to lose their battle with heart disease. Not a second passes that I don’t think of those women that lost their lives to heart disease, and I am honored to raise my voice each of them. As we conclude National Women’s Health Week, I want to encourage all women to join me in this fight against heart disease. Together, we can beat our No. 1 killer. Let’s Go Red!
Knowing her family history, and taking it seriously, saved Mary Leah’s life. At 30 years old, she scheduled her ‘preventative maintenance’ checkup with her mother’s cardiologist only to learn she had cardiomyopathy. Now she’s waiting for a new heart and educating women about the importance of learning their family history. Mary Leah is a national volunteer for the AHA’s Go Red For Women movement.