On Saturday I joined 1,000 other women at Riverside Community Hospital HeartCare Institute’s 6th Annual Red Dress Fashion Show, Luncheon and Health Expo. What began six years ago as a small heart health awareness event has turned into one of the most well-attended health awareness events in Riverside thanks to the vision of the hospital’s marketing director and event organizer, Cherie Russell.
This year Cherie brought together the Riverside Downtown Partnership, RCC School of Cosmetology, and Riverside’s downtown retailers: Toni Moore, The Parrot, and Vanity Haus. I participated in the fashion show and joined other women business owners, civic leaders, and hospital personnel in “modeling for a cause.” Cherie’s special guest, celebrity make-up artist and American Heart Association supporter Edgar Santos, worked with the young women of the RCC School of Cosmetology to make all the models look amazing as he coached the students through the process of completing our hair and make-up.
In all the fun and excitement of the day, the purpose of the event was not lost: reminding us that heart disease is the #1 killer of women. 1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke and it’s more deadly than all forms of cancer. More deadly than cancer? I had no idea. We learned through the various expert speakers at the event that women’s symptoms are different than men’s and that we often don’t recognize them until it’s too late. Women, for instance, can often struggle with shortness of breath weeks before experiencing a heart attack. Or women experience a burning sensation in their chest area instead of sharp pains. Symptoms that can easily be disregarded or mistaken for some other less serious condition, like heartburn.
Riverside’s own Ola Faye Stephens is one of those women. And a routine visit from her daughter probably saved Ola Faye’s life. She had no symptoms that she was aware of and was just resting her feet when her daughter asked her if she had any heart pains. Ola Faye said no. Her daughter, an anesthesiologist, returned home but continued to call her mother urging her to see a physician. Ola Faye began to notice she had a burning sensation near her heart, but it seemed like heartburn. She noticed other small signs like exhaustion from going up and down the stairs in her home. And then she noticed something that caused her to immediately contact a cardiologist. She was on a trip and had to change planes in Dallas. While rushing from one gate to the other, she said, she was completely out of breath. “I knew it was time to visit a doctor.”
Ola Faye had four blockages in her heart and needed a quadruple bypass. That was in 2000. She was 62-years-old. Four years later, Ola Faye needed another procedure, but luckily, she avoided a heart attack. Now she attends cardiac rehab twice a week at the hospital and she urges women to be aware of the symptoms, “you may experience a tightening in the chest or burning sensation, you may not necessarily have pain.” At least 1,000 of us were made aware on Saturday thanks to Cherie and her event partners.
For more information on how women can maintain good heart health, visit the American Heart Association website: www.heart.org.