Friday was about “being strong, empowering women and together, fighting heart disease.”
Debbie O’Neill knows the heart break, as well as the triumphs over heart disease. At the age of 24, O’Neill’s son Sean collapsed while running the Utica Boilermaker Roadrace and did not survive.
Thirty days later, her husband Kevin would succumb to heart disease, unaware of any symptoms at the time. And about a year later, her two daughters would be diagnosed with heart disease but with technology and research, they continue their fight today.
O’Neill shared her story as passion speaker for the Rome National Wear Red Day Luncheon event held at The Beeches Inn and Conference Center on Turin Road. The event was meant to serve as a celebration of women and empower them to improve their heart health.
Cardiovascular diseases, which include stroke, claim the life of a woman about every 80 seconds. But about 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be prevented.
The goal of Go Red for Women and National Wear Red Day was to raise $2 million nationally for more innovative research and educational programs.
Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking the life of approximately one woman every 80 seconds. More women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease, which can include stress, high blood pressure and family history. And 80 percent of heart disease may be prevented if women make the right choices for their hearts, including a healthy diet, exercise and abstinence from smoking, according to the American Heart Association.
O’Neill said she was honored to be chosen to speak at Friday’s event and that it’s her mission to bring awareness to heart disease and help raise money for life-saving research.
“Thanks to research, I have my two daughters today,” she said, adding that both their lives were saved with implantable defibrillators. “Raising awareness of heart disease and helping to raise money for research are part of my goals, and I hope I can help someone.”
“It’s also important to get the word out there to take care of yourself,” said O’Neill, reminding women that while they’re often busy taking care of their families, they should remember to be vigilant of their own health.
Dr. Andrew Bushnell, medical director of Emergency Services and chief medical officer at Rome Memorial Hospital, reiterated O’Neill’s sentiment for women to be aware of their heart health and to seek medical attention if they feel something “just isn’t right.”
“One in every four deaths of women is due to heart disease, and only half of women in the U.S. recognize heart disease as their No. 1 killer,” Bushnell said. “One in 20 women have coronary heart disease. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you may have heart disease or may be at risk of getting heart disease.”
Bushnell said sometimes women aren’t aware of the symptoms of heart disease, or of having a heart attack, because they are so different from men. A heart attack for a man is associated with chest pain and tightness, and a shooting pain down the arm. But women may experience indigestion, abdominal pain, back pain, arm pain, jaw pain or maybe no pain at all, he said.
If women feel any of those symptoms or feel something is irregular or just not right, “I encourage them to go to the hospital to get checked out,” Bushnell said.
Women should also be aware of the risk factors of heart disease, which include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, personal or family history, stress and smoking, he said.
But there are simple things women can do to prevent heart disease.
“Proper diet and exercise,” are key, “and no excessive alcohol use,” Bushnell said. “Getting screened for cholesterol and high blood pressure are also simple things you can do and something your doctor should do for your annual check-up. If you have high blood pressure, take your medication to keep it in control. If you have diabetes, take your medication to keep it in control.”
He said, “If you smoke you need to stop smoking. I’m shocked by the number of people I see in the emergency department, out on the streets, sidewalks, etc., that are smoking. One-half of cardio events in women are associated with smoking.”
The chief medical officer said while it is the goal of doctors and hospital staff to take care of area residents the best they can, women need to take steps to ensure they live a healthy life.
“Exercise, eat right and make good lifestyle choices — they all lead to a better chance of survival,” Bushnell said.