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Heart disease kills women, is preventable

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Wearing a red polka dot dress, white patent-leather shoes and a big smile across her chubby cheeks, little Olivia Joy Stonehill looked like any other 2-year-old as she ran around at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville on Thursday.

But the fun she was having with her parents, Courtney and Keven Stonehill, and grandparents in tow, belied the fact that Olivia is fighting a serious heart illness called DiGeorge syndrome for which she has already endured two surgeries and takes six medications.

“This disease will affect every part of her body, making her intellectually, psychologically and developmentally challenged.

She goes through speech and physical therapy now,” Courtney Stonehill said of the lifelong challenges Olivia will face.

Olivia was one of 12 poster girls at the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women luncheon. Each of them was proof that cardiovascular disease doesn’t just strike older people. One of the calendar girls, baby Kendall Erickson, did not survive her battle with cardiovascular disease.  

The featured speaker, Dr. Kathy Magliato, director of Women’s Cardiac Services at Saint John’s Medical Center in Los Angeles, told the women, and a few men, at the luncheon that so many women take what she calls “the bikini approach” to women’s health, that is focusing on the breasts and cervix.

“But it’s not our breasts that are killing us. It’s our hearts,” she said.

Magliato said 4 percent of women die from breast cancer, while 44 percent die from heart disease.

“We’re able to diagnose breast cancer earlier, treat it better and tons of money has been poured into it. We need to take this same formula for heart disease,” she said.

Magliato, who is also overseeing the clinical trial of the Jarvik artificial heart, rattled off a list of facts: 2.5 million women are hospitalized every year for cardiovascular illness, and about 500,000 women die every year from heart disease, or one woman every 60 seconds.

“We see more women die of heart disease in the 25 to 44 age range,” Magliato said.

What’s more, heart disease is 80 percent preventable, she said.

Magliato said half of women get no chest pains when having a heart attack.

Among the most common signs are an uncanny fatigue you can’t put your finger on, fainting and jaw pain.

She said the biggest risk factors are age, family history, high blood pressure, diabetes and cigarette smoking. Young women who smoke and take oral contraceptives increase their risk for heart disease by 30 percent.

The doctor also recommended women know their numbers — their cholesterol number, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Sheila Adams, of Gary, said she experienced a TIA, transient ischemic attack, at age 49 last October. TIA is an episode in which a person has stroke-like symptoms for 1 to 2 hours.

It is often considered a warning sign that a true stroke may happen in the future if something is not done to prevent it.

She now is on medication and has to watch her diet.

Adams agreed with Magliato that a lack of education is a problem with heart disease.

“People need to be aware,” she said, adding they also need to overcome their fear and go to the hospital or doctor if they have any signs of heart problems.



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