Wendy Henry, 2012 event chair; Jasmine Huda, Luncheon emcee; Penny Pennington, 2013 event vice chair; Pat Whitaker, 2013 event chair; Sandra Van Trease, 2011 event chair

The fact remains that more women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. In response, the local chapter of the American Heart Association is working to ensure the disease is no longer a silent killer.

The annual St. Louis Go Red for Women luncheon, slated for Feb. 1 at the Ritz-Carlton, will raise awareness of cardiovascular diseases. A sold-out crowd of 800 is expected, and fundraising is on track to exceed the organization's goal of $500,000, says Pat Whitaker, the 2013 Go Red for Women chair. The event includes free heart screenings, healthy lifestyle sessions, a networking reception, a heart-healthy lunch and keynote speaker Dr. M. Rosanna Gray-Swain of BJC HealthCare.

The Go Red campaign, now in its 10th anniversary year, has generated a significant impact locally, says group president of BJC HealthCare Sandra Van Trease, a former chair of the luncheon. “The annual luncheon has grown in size, participation and sponsorship, and has raised additional funds for research, education and support for fighting cardiovascular diseases. We are reaching women who may not otherwise realize the significance of the disease.” 

The Association says approximately 8 million women in the U.S. are currently living with heart disease, but only one in six of them believes that heart disease is her greatest health threat. The lack of awareness partially lies in the presentation of the disease. In women, heart disease often shows no symptoms, with less than a third of women in a recent survey reporting any early warning signs such as chest pain or discomfort before a heart attack, compared with most men. Symptoms can include nausea and low energy, and cardiovascular conditions are not necessarily related to age, Whitaker notes. "It can affect young women, but they often brush it off as something else."

In her role in the health care field, Van Trease sees the devastating effects of heart attack and stroke every day. “This is still the No. 1 killer of women in our country, so it’s important to know your risk factors and how to manage those risks.” Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease, according to the Association.

The most important thing women can do is understand their own health profile, Van Trease notes. While family history is a major risk factor out of women’s control, there are prevention tactics to mitigate that, she adds. “We can make healthier choices, such as exercising, choosing to eat an apple instead of potato chips, and maintaining our health management under a doctor’s care.” With one in three women impacted by the disease, almost every family is affected by it. “I have a history of heart disease in my family," Van Trease says. "Whether you are experiencing it yourself, or you see a loved one or a neighbor dealing with the challenge, it makes you want to do something—it’s very personal.”

The luncheon, as well as additional Go Red for Women events such as Wear Red Day, will reignite the fight against cardiovascular diseases, Van Trease says.

“If we reach just one more woman, it’s worth the effort.”

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