One woman dies of heart disease or stroke about every 80 seconds.
That’s a startling statistic from the American Heart Association. But it’s also important to know that up to 80 percent of heart disease is preventable through diet, exercise and knowing your numbers. Now that is an empowering number.
Stroke, a form of cardiovascular disease, is the No. 3 cause of death in women, and the use of birth control pills is a risk factor not every woman is aware of. There’s much we can do in the way of prevention, and listening to our bodies and taking action when things don’t feel quite right can be a key to surviving and recovering from a stroke, heart attack or other heart disease.
At 43, Jennifer Hill of Yarmouth was a healthy woman. She exercised, made good food choices and was active and engaged with her family. She had no known risk factors for heart disease, yet she suffered a significant heart attack. In retrospect, she says, there were signs that things weren’t quite right as much as two months in advance of her heart attack. Read her story on page 16.
Like Hill, Kim Cowperthwaite tells in her powerful personal essay on page 22 how she was active, healthy, mindful and had no known risk factors. Then she suffered a SCAD (spontaneous coronary heart dissection). She was fortunate a Maine Medical Center team made a quick and correct diagnosis and saved her life. She, too, wanted to ignore earlier symptoms, but her kids and husband convinced her otherwise.
Kristina Kentigian (page 18) knew from a very young age she had a congenital heart defect. At 33, she began experiencing what she had been warned about her whole life, and she needed a permanent pacemaker to ensure that her heart kept beating. That was later replaced by a defibrillator. Kentigian has spent time learning more about her body and her condition, and now spends her time being active, making music and writing.
In recognition of American Heart Month, and in a partnership with the Maine chapter of the American Heart Association, we wanted to tell the stories of these women and others in this issue of Maine Women Magazine. I have a family history of heart disease, and at age 57, I am just a few years younger than my father was when he had his heart attack. I think I am healthier than my dad, who was significantly overweight, a heavy smoker and a junk-food junkie, but reading these stories helps me to be more aware of needing to pay attention to my body, even if I think I’m at low risk of having heart issues.
If you are looking for fun and healthy things to do to keep your heart in great shape, read our suggestions for “heart pumping fun” on page 44. And don’t forget that February is also the month for lovers and celebrating that part of our hearts. We’ve got great food ideas in our At The Table column on page 60, and there are lots of suggestions for things to do with your sweetheart on page 34. You will find the rest of the columns and features that you’ve come to love throughout this issue of Maine Women Magazine. Stay tuned and stay connected!