Heart disease is the number one killer of American women, claiming lives at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, research for women was lagging far behind. The American Heart Association was faced with a challenge: to dispel the myth that heart disease was only for men and to raise awareness in women. Thus, ten years ago, they launched Go Red For Women to start a conversation that grew into a National dialogue—we celebrate that pivotal anniversary this year. “The best way to stop heart disease is to beat it before it starts,” informs Matt Rountree, the Communications Director at the American Heart Association (AHA). He continues, “That’s why the American Heart Association invests resources across Central and Eastern Kentucky to educate others on lowering our risk.
They work through schools, businesses and churches to teach people how to choose healthier eating options and how to add extra physical activity into their day.” Matt explains, “Go Red For Women started because many women thought of heart disease as a man’s disease. So the American Heart Association developed Go Red For Women, a passionate, emotional, social initiative to educate women on ways to lower their risk.”
Since its inception, the campaign has snowballed into a powerful movement as more and more women are taking charge of their health. Women are the best advocates for each other because they can band together and inspire better choices based off of their own life experiences and it shows. Today, 21 percent fewer women are dying of cardiovascular disease and 23 percent more women are aware that heart disease is their number one killer. Much of this success is attributed to the contributions given by the public in addition to money raised by the AHA. Cardiovascular research is the backbone of its mission, and funds raised go to support research both in Lexington and across the Commonwealth. In fact, more than $1.5 Million was recently awarded by the American Heart Association to fund new cardiovascular research in Kentucky. Further, “The money you raise also helps push policy in Frankfort to make all of Kentucky healthier,” advises Matt. “Thanks to past efforts funded by you, all newborn babies in Kentucky will soon be screened for congenital heart defects before they leave the hospital.” He shares, “We are working on a policy to make all of Kentucky smoke-free and then soon, we want to teach CPR to every high school student.” Celebrating it’s tenth year nationally, the Go Red for Women campaign has the goal over the next five years to continue expanding and reaching out to more women to eradicate heart disease and strokes in women once and for all. Moreover, in 2010, the AHA set a strategic goal of reducing death and disability from cardiovascular disease and strokes by 20 percent while improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent by the year 2020.
One of the fantastic ways the American Heart Association heightens awareness of heart disease in women is through the Go Red for Women Luncheon, which is an annual event. November 8, 2013 marks Lexington’s sixth Go Red for Women Luncheon and the AHA could not be more thrilled with the progress it has seen these past six years. The first luncheon held in Lexington hosted 300 attendees while this year nearly 800 women are expected to attend with the goal of raising $150,000 for the mission. Mike adds, “The Go Red for Women Luncheon is a tremendous event that is educational, inspiring, entertaining and encouraging. Survivors model Macy’s fashion on the runway after sharing their story, motivating everyone in the room. These women are incredibly brave and while they are by no means public speakers, the courage it takes for them to speak out against this disease is an incredible moment to celebrate!” He adds, “Someday, we would like to host the Go Red for Women luncheon in Rupp Arena,” shares Mike Turner, Special Events Director at the American Heart Association. A lofty goal indeed, but with the continued progress and increased awareness, it can be achieved.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the luncheon with my mother who has hypertension and high blood pressure. I was hopeful that if she and I could experience this event together, we would both be influenced to better care for ourselves and for each other despite leading hectic lives. I never could have imagined how deeply the luncheon would impact everyone in attendance to the core. Prior to lunch, attendees swathed in red were greeted by multiple exhibition tables promoting healthy lifestyles along with fun activities to try, including a deeply fabulous TOPS Photography Station with boas and other wild props to dress up with. Walking into the ballroom, jaws dropped at the gorgeous layout of the luncheon itself. Music from a live band stirred up excitement for all those in the room and delicious fragrances of our heart healthy lunch wafted from trays nearby. Once seated, we were honored to witness the courageous testimonies made by the women who battled and survived heart disease. One story in particular rocked my world because it could have also been my story or my mom’s story.
Two years ago, a young woman attended the Go Red Luncheon and was moved by the stories she witnessed to ask her mother, who had been experiencing uncanny exhaustion and a host of other symptoms, to visit her cardiologist. Her mother continued to resist her daughter’s attempts, so the daughter relinquished and didn’t bring up the subject again. At least for a while anyway. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the mother expressed interest in her daughter’s bright red scarf that she received at the Go Red For Women Luncheon she had attended a few weeks before. A deal was made between the two that if the mother went to her cardiologist for a checkup, she could have the scarf. Weeks later at the cardiologist, the mother discovered she needed immediate surgery for advanced heart disease. If she had waited any longer, chances are that she would have not survived an impending heart attack. As the audience wiped away their tears, the mother proudly came to the stage looking gorgeous in red and shared that if it hadn’t been for her daughter attending the luncheon, she would not be here today and would not have lived to see her daughter walk down the aisle two weeks prior. Leaving the event that day, I began a personal crusade to learn as much about the prevention of this disease and to share this knowledge with friends, loved ones and my personal training clients. While I have seen drastic improvement in so many lives, it is true when Mike says, “Because heart disease is the number one killer of men and women, you don’t have to go far to find someone you know directly who has survived or is dealing with heart disease and strokes.” Mike continues, “People are praying for answers for loved ones with heart-related disease every second of every day. Today, there are more answers now than when this movement began ten years ago. This is even more of a reason to celebrate the women who are here with us thriving and enjoying precious moments with family as a result of their taking initiative to take care of themselves and listening to their bodies.”
Joey Maggard, the Executive Director of the American Heart Association adds, “There have been several success stories resulting from the Go Red Luncheon. People have written us who have stopped smoking, made healthier dietary choices and decided to exercise more because they were in attendance and wanted to lead healthier lives.” Little did I know walking in that I would be one of them in the actions I decided to take coming out of this event to care for my health and encourage others to strive for the same.
The sixth annual Go Red For Women Luncheon will be held November 8, 2013 at the Lexington Center in Heritage Hall, 430 W. Vine Street from 9 am to 1 pm. The event will feature two educational break out sessions including Women’s Heart Health for All Ages led by Dr. Amanda Smith from Saint Joseph Primary Care Associates and a Healthy Cooking Demonstration hosted by Chef Ouita Michel, from Holly Hill Inn. These breakout sessions will inform and inspire you to join health and fitness experts, medical professionals and women like you to take the concrete steps today for a better tomorrow. The local cause partner is the Saint Joseph Heart Institute, part of Kentucky One Health, while this year’s chair is Nancy Atkins with Bluegrass Health. The Keynote Speaker at the Lexington event is Martha Lanier, a motivational speaker and heart attack survivor. Using humor, compassion and a compelling message, Martha will inspire women to turn their challenges into achievements using practical methods she used when bouncing back from her own roadblocks.
The American Heart Association is also excited to announce that Lexington’s own Regan Judd is a national 2013 Go Red For Women spokes woman. Regan is a UK graduate and heart disease survivor who underwent open-heart surgery at age 19, proving that heart disease knows no bounds when it comes to the age of its victims. Regan was selected as one of the ten spokespeople chosen to represent the 10th Anniversary of the Go Red For Women movement and we are so honored and excited that she will be at this year’s Lexington Luncheon. Joey Maggard says, “Regan is a remarkable young woman and we are pleased to have a survivor from the Lexington community as the national face of heart disease in women.”
Ten years ago, the American Heart Association took a stand to fight heart disease in women. Go Red For Women, the movement, was started by women to stand up for all the women who touched our lives before they lost their own. Today, millions more women understand it is their number one killer and 330 fewer women are dying of heart disease every single day. Even with the incredible progress, our fight is far from over as heart disease continues to kill more women than all forms of cancer combined. Take action now and take a stand against heart disease. Take care of your heart and tell the women in your life to do the same by getting involved with the movement. Make it your mission to save your life and the lives of the women you love.