Flying through the air on a trapeze is on the top of Anne Gardner’s to-do list for 2019.
The 52-year-old North Smithfield native runs the pharmacy programs for CVS, manages an animal rescue and lives with a congenital heart defect.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the American Heart Association’s launch of the Go Red for Women movement. It’s a movement that has special significance for Anne Gardner.
Her cardiologist told her that at some point they will need to either repair or replace one of the valves in her heart. She does take part in an exercise program to strengthen her heart that may let doctors put off her surgery for a bit.
“It’s important to share because all we read about in mainstream media is research that pertains to men and women really need to believe in themselves and know that they matter,” said Anne. “Getting a group of women together to collaborate and share is a very powerful thing, it’s validating and there is a hope that is created.”
Anne Gardner is a member of the class of 2018 Heart2Heart Storytellers, a powerful platform that encourages women to share their survivor stories of heart disease and stroke.
The American Heart Association and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) are committed to fighting the startling statistics of heart disease and stroke in women. BCBSRI is helping to support the important work of the American Heart Association by making a $25,000 contribution to the American Heart Association in the name of Heart2Heart Survivors. On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at the Southern New England Go Red for Women Luncheon, there will be a new class of 2019 Heart2Heart Storytellers to hear from.
For Anne, being part of the Heart2Heart Storytellers, let her become part of a community. “When I sat at the table with the other women last year, I learned so much from them, “ she said.
“My theory is who cares how old you are, if you manage your health and do what your doctors recommend, anything is possible and you can still live your life,” said Anne.
Pam Hughes is a 52-year-old heart and stroke survivor. She is also a class member of the 2018 Heart2Heart Storytellers campaign. This new year finds Pam still working fulltime in a challenging job, volunteering as a manager for a local sports team, and being involved as loving mother to her two daughters.
When Pam was just 35-years-old she had two massive heart attacks, was on life support and also had a stroke that caused her to lose circulation in both her legs.
Before the Heart2Heart Storytellers Campaign, Pam rarely told her story. “I’m glad I did take part in the Heart2Heart Storytellers because my story will hopefully help somebody else,” Pam said.
“Two days before my heart attack, my right calf was aching and then my arm and then my heart,” said Pam. She is a parole officer with the State of Rhode Island Department of Corrections. “Everyone has their idea of what a heart attack feels like and what you see in the movies, it was so far from that,” she said. The day of her heart attack, Pam woke up and knew something was wrong. “I was sweating bullets and I told my boyfriend you have to me to the hospital,” Pam said. Once she made it to the hospital she collapsed. The mother of two daughters, she eventually recovered. “My daughters were so young when this happened, they gave me the motivation to recover, they needed me.”
While nearly 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented, cardiovascular diseases continue to be a woman’s greatest health threat, claiming one woman’s life every 80 seconds. That’s a third of our mothers, sisters and friends.
“Women have to know that they are not alone in this,” said Pam. “It was such a good experience to hear from the other Storytellers and what they’ve gone through.”
35-year-old Christina DiFabio of Westerly teaches yoga. The only sign that she had open heart surgery when she was 27 years old is daily medicine, that she takes for a heart valve replacement.
Christina is also a 2018 class member of the Heart2Heart Storytellers. She is looking forward to meeting members of the 2019 Heart2Heart Storytellers.
“There is such a big benefit to being part of the Heart2Heart Storytellers”, said Christina. She discovered she had an aneurysm in her heart when she as 27. The doctors couldn’t initially operate because it was too risky, but eventually the aneurysm became too dangerous and they had to operate. The surgery was a success. But with no family history of heart conditions, it was difficult to accept.
“I was lucky that the aneurysm was found, “ Christina said. “I had no symptoms and it was a total fluke that it was found through a heart murmur.” After that heart murmur was detected, the rest of Christina’s family was tested, but no one else was found to have the same defect.
When trying to connect with a group that had gone through similar situations, Christina initially only found men’s groups. “I felt very alone as a woman, and that’s why when I heard about the Heart2Heart Storytellers Campaign, I was drawn to it.”
Go Red has made considerable progress toward its original goal of raising awareness among women that heart disease is their greatest health threat. Before Go Red, only 30 percent of women recognized this fact. Today, nearly 56 percent of women recognize this – that’s a 90 percent increase in awareness and over 670,000 lives saved.
“With the Heart2Heart Storytellers campaign. I felt like I made a connection and became part of a community,” Christina said. “I learned that feeling of not being alone and making it to the other side.”
On Thursday, February 14th you will have the chance to hear from the 2019 Class of Heart2Heart Storytellers at the Go Red for Women Luncheon. Cardiovascular diseases, which include stroke, claim the life of a woman about every 80 seconds. The stories you hear at the Go Red for Women Luncheon may one day help save your life or the life of someone you love. For information about the Go Red for Women Luncheon please go to snegoredluncheon.heart.org Or contact Go Red for Women Director Michelle Clark at 401-228-2322 or email her at [email protected]