Heart attack survivor spreads important message

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— A website saved her life. Julia Allen, the national spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women’s campaign, says www.goredforwomen.org can save many more lives if everyone becomes aware of and makes good use of the website.

“If you say nothing else about me or about this cause, please just point everyone to the website,” said Allen, who survived two heart attacks in one day in 2013. “There’s nothing like a heart attack to make you change the way you eat and lose a little weight.”

Allen is also helping to spread the word about the American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day, which takes place on Friday, February 6, 2015.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer, according to heart association officials.

Allen says the statistics are even more deadly for African-Americans and other minorities. African-American women are less likely than Caucasian women to be aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death. Diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, physical inactivity, obesity and a family history of heart disease are all greatly prevalent among African-Americans and are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke, heart association officials said.

What’s more, African-American women have almost two times the risk of stroke than Caucasians, and more likely to die at an earlier age when compared to women of other ethnicities. Tjhe unsettling statistics include the fact that cardiovascular diseases kills nearly 50,000 African-American women annually and of African-American women ages 20 and older, 49 percent have heart disease and only one in five African-American women believes she is personally at risk.

Further, just 52 percent of African-American women are aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and as little as 36 percent of African-American women know that heart disease is their greatest health risk.

In Allen’s case, the married mother of three boys ages 14, 11 and 7, said she had always put her family and friends’ needs ahead of her own.

She worked a full-time job, helped to get her children off to school each day and participate in various activities while also preparing regular meals for the family.

Allen said she first felt a heart attack come on while at work. Then, even as she felt pain in her chest, she went home to make an after school snack for her boys before finally deciding to drive to the hospital.

“I didn’t want to believe I could be having a heart attack,” she said. “But, I had at least two that day. And, really, I looked on the internet and came across the American Heart Association’s website and I was able to check my symptoms and I found that I had six of the seven symptoms and that’s when I knew that I was definitely having a heart attack.”

Allen had also ignored the red flags she said were present, such as being anemic and a strong family history of heart disease.

Doctors told Allen that an artery in her left ventricle was 80 percent blocked, but because of where the blockage was, it couldn’t be repaired with a stent. Treatment was done by medication, which helped the area repair by building new capillaries.

Allen, now 46, has made important changes to her lifestyle to reduce her heart attack risk. She eats healthier foods and makes more time for exercise. Instead of waiting in the bleachers while her kids play sports, she brings exercise clothes and walks around the track.

“My 14-year-old is my biggest supporter. He makes sure that I exercise and that I keep active,” Allen said.

Thanks to a loving husband, family and supportive friends, Allen says she has also been able to reduce her stress and she regularly makes healthy lifestyle choices. She became a volunteer with the heart association where she works to raise awareness about heart disease and its affects as the top killer of women.

“I would encourage people to talk to their primary care physician and listen to him or her. Know your family history,” she said. “And, if something seems out of whack, go to the doctor. Don’t ignore it.”

For more information about Go Red For Women or about heart disease, visit www.goredforwomen.org.