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Go Red for Women: saving women’s lives

Stacey Askelson introduced the 10 Go Red for Women Challengers. Two-hundred women applied and 10 were chosen. “They worked their little butts off,” Askelson said. (Naomi Yaeger photo)1 / 3
Jody Draper was one of the 10 Go Red Challengers. She said that before the challenge she didn’t realize that she had high cholesterol due to genetic reasons. During the Challenge she lowered her cholesterol and lost 14 inches. (Naomi Yaeger photo)2 / 3
Sandy Johnson, one of the 10 Go Red Challengers collects a donation to the American Heart Association from Josie O’Gara. (Naomi Yaeger photo)3 / 3

The color red filled the Harbor Side Ballroom at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center on March 5. More than 400 gathered for annual Northland Go Red For Women Luncheon — part of the American Heart Association’s national movement to end heart disease in women. Ten women who had participated in the Association’s Make-over Challenge were introduced. Kristen Ryan told the story of her heart attack, which brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience.

“I died suddenly in the middle of downtown Naples,” Kristin, a slim 54-year-old nurse practitioner told the audience. Ryan was on vacation with her family in Florida when she had a heart attack. She credits two registered nurses who knew CPR with saving her life. Also an automated external defibrillator was used to revive her.

“I lost my youthful innocence that my body would carry me through,” she said.

Ryan had worked in the cardiology department of Essentia Health. After Ryan told her story people gathered around her. Kathleen Braddy a cardiologist at Essentia gave her a hug. It’s any of us at any age,” the heart doctor told the Budgeteer.

She urged everyone in the audience to tell others what they learned.

“By being here,” Ryan said, “you are going to save a life.”

Fast Facts

Only one in five American women believe that heart disease is her greatest health threat. This unfortunate reality has a lot to do with why the statistics on women and heart disease are so unsettling:

One out of three women dies from heart disease.

Nearly 460,000 women every year die from heart disease, this is about one woman per minute

Every year since 1984 more women than men have died of cardiovascular diseases.43 million American women are currently living with cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease kills more women than the next four leading causes of death, including all cancers.

Myths about heart disease and women

“It’s a man’s disease.” “But I’m too young.” “Breast cancer is the real threat.” If you’ve heard or said any of this before, you’re not alone.

It’s time to set the record straight and start thinking of this as a disease that doesn’t spare women and children. Your health is non-negotiable; we need to separate fact from fiction so that together, we can stop this killer once and for all.

Myth: Heart disease is for men, and cancer is the real threat for women

Fact: Heart disease is a killer that strikes more women than men, and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. While one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease claims the lives of one in three. That’s roughly one death each minute.

Myth: Heart disease is for old people

Fact: Heart disease affects women of all ages. For younger women, the combination of birth control pills and smoking boosts heart disease risks by 20 percent. And while the risks do increase with age, things like overeating and a sedentary lifestyle can cause plaque to accumulate and lead to clogged arteries later in life. But even if you lead a completely healthy lifestyle, being born with an underlying heart condition can be a risk factor.

Myth: Heart disease doesn’t affect women who are fit

Fact: Even if you’re a yoga-loving, marathon-running workout fiend, your risk for heart disease isn’t completely eliminated. Factors like cholesterol, eating habits and smoking can counterbalance your other healthy habits. You can be thin and have high cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease. And while you’re at it, be sure to keep an eye on your blood pressure at your next check-up.

Myth: I don’t have any symptoms

Fact: Sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. Because these symptoms vary greatly between men and women, they’re often misunderstood. Media has conditioned us to believe that the telltale sign of a heart attack is extreme chest pain. But in reality, women are somewhat more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look out for are dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.

Myth: Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do about it

Fact: Although women with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, there’s plenty you can do to dramatically reduce it. Simply create an action plan to keep your heart healthy.

Because of healthy choices and knowing the signs, more than 627,000 of women have been saved from heart disease, and 330 fewer are dying per day. What’s stopping you from taking action?

Source: American Heart Association /

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at