As the No. 1 killer of women, heart disease has personally touched the lives of many people. As chair of the upcoming 2014 Go Red for Women luncheon, Penny Pennington, a principal at Edward Jones, realized how much it had affected her own family: Her grandmother died at age 55 of a heart attack, along with other family members who have been affected. “As I learned more about heart disease in women, I found out that it is likely that I will have a personal experience with heart disease either myself or through someone close to me. The statistics are much higher for women and heart disease than any other killer, including cancer: About three times more women have heart disease.”
Only one in five American women realize that it is their greatest health risk, according to statistics from the American Heart Association. Women also are less likely than men to recognize when they’re having a heart attack and seek medical help, Pennington adds. “One of the reasons is that heart disease presents itself differently in women than it does in men. They don’t always have the classic symptoms like pain or tightness in the chest, and pain down the arm. Very often, women experience jaw stiffness, nausea and general fatigue, but they will disregard them, not understanding that they may be signs of a severe problem.”
The Go Red for Women campaign aims to change that, and has been making great strides. “By our count, 650,000 women’s lives have been saved based on the awareness and funding of research through Go Red for Women,” Pennington says. According to the American Heart Association, more than 90 percent of women who participate in the event have made at least one healthy behavior change, from losing weight, to increasing exercise, changing diets or having their cholesterol levels checked.
The 2014 event will be held at The Ritz-Carlton on Feb. 7, which is also National Wear Red Day. Pennington is joined in planning the event by vice-chair Cheri Combs, and Jasmine Huda will return as emcee. Dr. George Van Hare, director of Washington University School of Medicine’s division of pediatric cardiology, and Sandra van Trease will be speakers at the event. “Last year, there were around 700 very powerful, enthusiastic women and men,” Pennington notes. “It’s quite an eye-popper when you look at the room all decked out in red!” In addition to a luncheon and sharing of survivor stories, the event features health screenings sponsored by BJC HealthCare. “That’s where people start to make different decisions,” she says.
The funds raised at the event support research that is vetted through the American Heart Association and targeted toward women and other nontraditional populations that are significantly impacted by heart disease. And because of the vibrant medical research community in St. Louis, nearly $2 comes back to the region for every dollar raised locally. “A dollar spent on research for heart health in Dallas or New York or Los Angeles is going to help all of us, but when it’s being utilized by researchers here in St. Louis, that’s a two-fer,” Pennington says.
For those who would like to become even more involved in the fight against heart disease, Pennington notes that the Go Red for Women executive leadership team is a great opportunity. “There’s a group of about 20 women and men on the team, who pledge to raise and give money and raise awareness. They’re drivers behind the luncheon and fundraising, and we’re always looking for highly motivated female—and male—executives.”