Statistics show coronary heart disease is the single leading cause of death for women in the U.S. The sobering number of heart attacks here every year tallies up to 1.2 million, with 870,000 deaths resulting from a trio of heart disease, other cardiovascular diseases and stroke. That’s roughly a third of all deaths in the country, which explains why the American Heart Association launched Go Red For Women in 2004, a campaign to alert women that heart disease should be their No. 1 heath concern. Heart attack survivor Laurie Franz is living proof that taking an active role in your health can lead to recovery and prevention.
Franz was diagnosed with high blood pressure at her gynecologist’s office and went to her primary care physician for medication. She seemed to be in good health when, in the middle of the night in March 2006, the classic symptoms of a heart attack came on: nausea, pressure and dizziness. “It was a no-brainer to call 911,” she recalls.
After arriving by ambulance at a local hospital, Franz passed the stress test, blood tests and EKG. The doctors ascertained that she could go home. Twenty-four hours passed. “Then all the symptoms came on again,” she says. “And that’s when I had to solicit my primary caregiver to be my advocate. I did not want to leave that hospital until they found out what was wrong with me. They were looking at my throat, stomach, they missed me because I’m young, fit, a woman, slender, they didn’t have the awareness to think ‘heart attack,’ because I defied all the norms.”
With her doctor’s support, Franz was admitted, and her condition was caught overnight, when cardiac enzymes are most elevated. The next day the staff knew her problem was localized to her heart, and a catheterization revealed they would either need to do open heart surgery or stent her; fortunately, stenting worked.
“I did everything possible to recover,” Franz says. “I got involved in the St. Luke’s cardiac rehabilitation program, during which you wear a heart monitor and they watch everything you do and guide you through recovery. A lot of it is mental. You’re afraid to exert yourself because you’re afraid you might blow a gasket,” Franz explains. Psychological help is available also, and medical staff keeps tabs on the numbers. “They empower you, instead of letting you be a cardiac cripple.”
Life post-surgery saw Franz changing her priorities. “What used to be very important to me, now is often laughable. Without your health, what do you have? The crux of it for me is that women are so busy helping others, they neglect making appointments and taking care of their own health weakness. That neglect can get you into trouble.”
With the knowledge she’s gained in talking to people and boning up on heart health, Franz is poised to help other women. “I feel that’s one of the reasons it happened to me,” she says. More active now than she was before her heart attack, Franz suggests a fourfold agenda for women’s health: good nutrition, stress management, exercise and prescription medicine. “Huge heart centers are being built, but if people knew what to do to keep their cardiovascular systems in good stead, we’d have a lot less stenting and surgery, which take a huge toll on patient expenses and on insurance companies,” notes Franz.
To that end, the AHA has planned the Go Red For Women Luncheon, set to take place at The Ritz-Carlton Friday, Feb. 29, with educational breakout sessions, a heart-healthy lunch and keynote speaker humorist Kathleen Passanisi.
Most important, urges Franz, is being proactive about your health. “Get involved in your own health care, know your history, have conversations with your doctors instead of just telling them what to do, or vice versa.”