The session, entitled Stories from the Heart: Survival Stories from WomenHeart Champions, featured four women panelists with heart disease who are sharing their powerful stories on hope and survival. The WomenHeart Champions advocate for prevention, early detection, accurate diagnosis and proper treatment for women with heart disease. Their stories put a face on heart disease and make the statistics on women’s heart disease come to life.
Diane McDaniel – She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure during pregnancy in 1970, she was hospitalized from when she was five months pregnant until her daughter was two weeks old. Her daughter has played an important role in her journey with heart disease and emphasizes the importance of family members being educated on the treatments, symptoms, prevention and what to expect if your family member has heart disease. Diane has had heart valves repaired and replaced and has had four Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA). Diane now has a pacemaker implanted and is on medication to control her condition.
Diane went from “being a young, very productive woman to being young and sick; she wasn’t ready for that.” She understood that part of living with the illness is about being healthy; she made lifestyle changes and also began exercising, eating right and maintaining a healthy weight. “My heart disease has shaped me in some ways, but it does not defeat my aspirations to excel personally or professionally. While having this condition has made a major impact on my life, it as has not barred me from having a full life. I have a 40 year old healthy daughter. I completed Law School in my thirties and I am the presently employed as a lawyer in New York City.”
Nadine Jenkins – She has cardiomyopathy and suffered a silent heart attack before age 34. She now benefits from an implanted defibrillator to manage her arrhythmias and protect her from sudden cardiac death. Nadine’s husband and children have supported her through all of her challenges. She’s had several episodes where her defibrillator has shocked her and she’s thankful it worked and to be here today. She’s a doctoral student at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in pursuit of a PhD in health science.
“Today, I am living with heart disease and have taken my experience and passion about healthcare to another level.” Nadine volunteers at several organizations and participates in many advocacy events for women with heart disease. Physically, she looks very healthy – she’s thin, tall and doesn’t smoke, but because people often related heart disease to males and older individuals, they often are surprised when she tells people she has heart disease. “You can have everything that looks great on the outside, but have this silent killer lurking inside you. People are blown away when I tell them I have heart disease.”
“I know that it is through grace and mercy that I am still here today, and I hope to inspire others who are at risk or already have suffered as a result of heart disease. You can be young and beautiful and still have heart disease; look at me.”
Maxine Levy – She was a heart attack survivor at age 41. Now in excellent health, this bank executive credits her angioplasty, medication and, most of all, her healthy lifestyle and commitment to regular exercise to living well with heart disease. She tells women to be strong. If you feel you are having a heart attack, be your own advocate, as she illustrates in her story.
“I firmly believe that I can attribute my prolonged good health to my daily exercise routine. I’m up at 5AM every weekday and working out on my elliptical for 40-45 minutes. On Sunday’s I meet my girlfriends for a 4-mile walk in a park. I consider this regimen as important as any medication.”
“15 years ago, when I had my heart attack, I doubted I would live to see my 5 year-old son’s bar mitzvah. Today, I have lived to celebrate his bar mitzvah, his older brother’s wedding and I firmly believe that I can live to dance at the bar mitzvahs and weddings of my yet unborn grandchildren.”
Brendaa Hayes – At age 40, she collapsed on her kitchen floor and was then diagnosed with several heart rhythm abnormalities. “Without warning, family history or injury, I was thrust into a life of heart disease.” She’s been treated with medications, catheter ablations and a pacemaker. She is a mother and college professor who has overcome many challenges of living with heart disease. She deals with her condition daily and never knows when she’ll have a bout of supraventricular tachycardia, atrial fibrillation and bradycardia. It worries her children greatly and they are nervous about what can happen to her at any moment.
Her teenage children have been through a great deal of stress as Brendaa went through her surgery. Her daughter has had to help out a great deal around the house and had to mature quickly; her son who is autistic, has had difficulty understanding what is going on. “I’m very lucky to have a wonderful group of lady friends willing to come over to her home and help out.”
“Each day I give thanks for waking up in the morning and hope that I can have 24 hours without an incident. They are few and far between.”