RI Spotlight: “Go Red” for women’s heart health

Go Red balloons

Go Red for Women luncheon

It was all shades of red as far as the eye could see across the 5th floor ballroom of the Rhode Island Convention Center in February, as women – and men – gathered for this year’s Go Red for Women luncheon.

You probably have heard about Go Red for Women, which the American Heart Association launched nationally in 2004 to focus on women’s heart health issues. But here’s what you might not know:

Melissa

Melissa Cummings

“Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women and 80 percent of heart disease is preventable,’’ said Melissa Cummings, a senior vice president at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and chairwoman of the 2017 Go Red campaign. Along the way she got an unexpected – and very personal – primer on heart health.

Her mom, Donna Daniels, began experiencing shortness of breath last fall. A nurse by training, she had always watched her diet and exercised religiously. But it was nagging jaw pain that finally sent Donna to see a doctor.

“That came up as one of the leading symptoms of heart disease or heart issues for women in particular,’’ Melissa said. “We often hear about pain traveling down a left arm. That’s typically more a male thing. Although it can certainly happen to women, that didn’t happen to her. The jaw pain was really the trigger.’’

Fortunately, Donna did not have a heart attack, but Melissa says it would only have been a matter of time. She received stents and is now good to go.

Go Red training kits

Go Red training kits

The American Heart Association stresses education and awareness. And just last month CVS Health, based in Woonsocket, pledged to raise $10 million nationally over the next three years to support cardiovascular research and education. Throughout the month of February CVS stores encouraged patrons to donate to the American Heart Association. CVS’ Eileen Howard Boone said AHA is a good – and natural – fit for her company.

“From a woman’s perspective, from just an overall heart disease perspective, it’s the No. 1 killer of women, so we really need to be part of it, we really need to align ourselves with the smartest people in the industry,’’ she said. “And American Heart doesn’t just focus on the research, doesn’t just focus on the advocacy, it helps engage and empower women to know about their health.’’

Boone said CVS offered free health screenings in March at its Minute Clinics, which let participants find out their levels for cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as blood pressure and body mass index (BMI). CVS also is donating six CPR training kits to four local schools in Rhode Island.

Kristina

Kristina Hill

And it’s not just heart disease. Kristina Hill had a stroke seven years ago at the age of 14 – after she arrived home from middle school one day. Kristina, who was a star hockey player at the time, wound up at Children’s Hospital in Boston, where her parents got the inconceivable news.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hill, your daughter has had a stroke,’’ Kristina recalled hearing the doctor say. “And I’m sitting there like, ‘So what’s a stroke?’ Am I going to be at my hockey tournament this weekend? That was my main concern.’’

Hockey

Hockey

It has been a long road back, but the girl who doctors thought might not walk again is a sophomore at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts, and plays on the women’s soccer team. Kristina also regularly volunteers to speak to school assemblies like one at Norwood Middle School outside of Boston in March. She was on hand with a local representative of the American Heart Association to encourage the kids to participate in a fundraising event called Hoops for Heart.

“It really hits home because I go and speak at a middle school and I go, ‘Which one of you guys are in 8th grade?’’’ Kristina said. “And a bunch of 8th-graders hands go up. Well I was in 8th grade when I had my stroke.’’

This year’s organizers of the Go Red for Women campaign worked hard to include men as well. And they hope those who were there will take the message – and awareness – beyond the luncheon.

“Go Red is central to the point of raising awareness,’’ Melissa Cummings said. “First you have to know heart disease is something you should be thinking about and how prevalent it is. And how frankly, not sexy it is. It’s not sexy and it’s not visible and it’s not something you can look at somebody and say ‘Oh, they have heart disease.’ That is some of, frankly, the challenge in creating a conversation about why it’s so important.’’

It’s a conversation they hope will continue throughout the year.

If you want to see the video version of this story go to www.RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to Jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org.

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