Go Red Saves Lives in the Communities

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Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Building from the foundation of a nationally-recognized preventive cardiology program, UW Health locally sponsors the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement to create greater awareness of heart disease in women. Through events and public service campaigns, we're empowering our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends to achieve better heart health. The story below provides a snapshot of how Go Red has impacted our community.
Caroline Smith knew immediately that her pain was not simply motion sickness. Riding a train back from a vacation in Reno last February, Smith began feeling sick and experiencing diarrhea and vomiting. Then she felt a sudden twisting pain between her shoulder blades.
Luckily, as a member of the Monona Quilters group, she had attended a January presentation, featuring the Go Red for Women message. At the meeting, Go Red advocates explained the causes and symptoms of heart attack and stroke and how to prevent heart disease.
Because Smith was able to recognize her symptoms, she is alive and well today. "If I hadn't been at the Go Red meeting, I would never have guessed I was having a heart attack," she says.
Smith alerted her husband, and by the time the couple arrived in Denver, paramedics were waiting to rush her to the hospital. When she arrived, she was whisked into the emergency room, where doctors determined she had a 100 percent blockage in one of her arteries. She quickly received a procedure to place a stent to open the blocked vessel.
"Because of the time lapse I couldn't control, I have some heart damage," says Smith. "But with a 100 percent blockage, I'm lucky I made it to the hospital. I think I was probably knocking on death's door without knowing it."
Smith says that before attending the Go Red presentation, she was completely unaware of the differences between heart attack symptoms for men and women. While men tend toward classic chest pain and shortness of breath, women more often experience symptoms similar to Smith's — nausea, dizziness and gastrointestinal problems. Smith's husband had a heart attack in January 2007, but that knowledge hadn't prepared her for what she experienced.
"I had none of the classic symptoms," says Smith, now under the care of UW Health cardiologist Karen Moncher, MD. "And I had no warning ahead of time."
Smith's story is great news to avid quilter and UW Health nurse Helen Martin, who has made it her mission to help make women aware of their risks for heart disease. Women's symptoms may be subtle and differ greatly from person to person, so Martin reminds the quilting groups she addresses — and every woman she meets — to learn to recognize and identify any changes in their body.
Martin and Go Red volunteers stress that women should never feel embarrassed to call for help if they think they might be experiencing heart problems. "I'm elated that Caroline took action and got help," Martin says. "Stories like hers just motivate us to do more."