Archived Story

Women and heart disease: My mom’s story

Published 5:12pm Saturday, February 15, 2014


I am typically responsible for coordinating what will be featured in our weekly Health Beat columns, but this week I decided to take on a different role. Since February is American Heart Month and we recently celebrated National Wear Red Day, an observance to support women’s heart disease awareness, I felt it appropriate for me to share a personal story about my family’s experience with heart disease.


Several years ago, my active and health-conscious mother was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, and I learned a lot about heart disease in women that seemed too important not to share with others.


I have always admired my mom for being so health conscious. She has been dedicated to a regular exercise program since her early 40s, and she is now 70. At age 45, she began teaching low-impact aerobics and had a very active class of women for several years. As she aged, her exercise regimen changed slightly. She and a friend have been dedicated to walking three miles at least four evenings a week for many years. Mom has always eaten very healthy meals and snacks. Of course, she and dad certainly enjoy a fried seafood dinner and a little country cooking every now and then.  They do live in the South, you know. My mom did not have high cholesterol or diabetes, was not overweight and has never smoked. At the time of her diagnosis, she had recently developed mild high blood pressure, but nothing that was alarming. My point being is I just didn’t think of my mom as being at any risk for heart disease.


She began getting an annual stress test a few years before her diagnosis when she developed atrial fibrillation. In early July of 2010, she had her annual stress test and it showed a possible blockage. Her doctor scheduled her for a heart catheterization. Of course, we were concerned, but we were not expecting to learn that she had a blockage that her physician described as 99.999999% blocked! The blockage was so bad that they could not insert the stents during the first heart catheterization procedure. She had to be given medication to help dissolve the clots so that the stents could be placed during a second procedure. Fortunately, the procedure went well, and she had a full recovery.


So why do I feel so compelled to tell her story? As I said earlier, I didn’t perceive my mother as being a risk for heart disease, but I have learned so much about risk factors and symptoms of heart disease that I think all women should be keenly aware of and take heart disease seriously.


After my mom’s diagnosis, I spent quite a bit of time talking to Judy VanDorp, the manager of Vidant Wellness Center in Washington about heart disease in women. Heart disease is often thought of as a “man’s disease.”  But did you know that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women and one in four American women dies of heart disease? Did you know that your family history plays a large factor in your risk for heart disease, even when many of the other risk factors are not present? My mom was at risk because of her family history.


After mom’s diagnosis and reading about the signs and symptoms of heart disease in women, we realized that my mother was having some of the signs, but she just was not aware. She had been having some shoulder pain, but thought it was muscular due to a previous injury.She was coughing quite a bit, but did not recognize it as shortness of breath and she was feeling fatigue, but she attributed it to getting older and not having the energy at 65 as she did when she was younger.


As I said earlier, my mom is doing well. At her last appointment with her cardiologist, he told her that everything looked great. The stent was doing exactly what it was designed to do, and her heart looked good. We both believe we should tell people her story so that more women will be aware of the fact that heart disease is not just a “man’s disease” and that more women should become knowledgeable and aware of the signs and symptoms. We must all pay attention to our health and the warning signs our bodies give us.


To learn more about women’s heart health, attend our Heart Truth event Feb. 25 at the Washington Civic Center. This year, we’re featuring Tracey Conway, an Emmy-Award winning actress and comedienne. Her lively and poignant story will touch and inspire you. You will enjoy heart-healthful foods and get a free “Red Dress Kit.”   Check out the details and register at or by calling 1-800-472-8500.


Pam Shadle is the manager of marketing, public relations and development at Vidant Beaufort Hospital.


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