Heart attack at age 31 turns woman into advocateTweet
By Aimee Murray
February 7, 2014
Three years ago, Keisha Hawes had no idea she would be on the national frontline of the fight against heart disease. The 34–year–old mother of three suffered a heart attack at the age of 31 and now serves as one of seven spokeswomen for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign.
In 2004, the AHA recognized the enormous challenge ahead of it. Heart and vascular diseases were claiming the lives of nearly half a million women in the U.S. each year, yet women did not seem to understand the very real risks they faced. Until that time, heart disease was generally thought to be a disease that impacted out–of–shape older men. With breast cancer awareness flooding the social consciousness, women didn’t see themselves at risk for heart disease. They were wrong. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women every year and most women don’t survive their first heart attack.
In an effort to raise national awareness about the alarming problem and educate women on their risks for developing heart disease, the AHA created Go Red for Women, a campaign designed to empower women to take charge of their heart health.
Hawes was like most women — unaware of the statistics or their personal risk.
“I just didn’t fit the bill or the mold, in my mind, of someone who would suffer from heart disease. I thought that heart disease had a certain look,” Hawes said. “I learned about the Go Red for Women campaign through a Facebook post and I heard a casting call on the radio,” she continued. “I figured since I had heard it twice that day, it must be a sign.”
Hawes decided she wanted to share her story, but she wasn’t prepared for the powerful emotions she would have to deal with before taking that step. “Initially I was angry, afraid and overwhelmed. I felt guilty; just a lot of emotions I had to sort out.”
Hawes came to the realization that there were likely many women who, similar to her, didn’t believe that it could happen to them. “Once I started doing the research and learning more about the American Heart Association and Go Red for Women, I learned that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. I thought it was breast cancer. I thought I had a greater risk of having cancer than heart disease.”
As a result of learning more about a woman’s risk for developing heart disease as well as the Go Red for Women campaign, Hawes said she felt compelled to share her story. “There are so many women who just don’t know the risks or that they can affect change when it comes to their health.” She also stressed the importance of taking personal responsibility which she believes is yet another form of treatment. “We look to medicine a lot and medicine is great. But there’s also exercise; it’s a form of medicine. Meditation is a form of medicine. Diet and proper nutrition is a form of medicine, so we need to take stock and add value to those things too.” She also said that it’s extremely important for women to know what’s going on with their bodies and to make themselves a priority.
Hawes shares her story every opportunity she gets. “I tell my story to whomever, wherever, however.” Her goal is to cause people to think. “Let me be the example. We don’t need any more examples. I’ve already done it and it’s not something that needs to be done again to prove a point,” she said jokingly.
Hawes regularly speaks with the media and at women’s church groups. She is particularly enjoying the opportunities she has been given to share her story at various events during the Go Red Month initiatives, Go Red Sundays.
The New Keisha
Living with diabetes and suffering a heart attack at age 31 was a wake-up call for Hawes who wants to be as healthy as possible for her husband and children. To that end, she has made several life changes. “I now make myself a priority and I don’t feel guilty about it. I know now that in order for me to be there and be everything I am to everyone else, I have to be my best self. I have to take care of myself. I have to be honest with my doctor. I have to go to my doctor’s appointments. I have to take my medication and I have to really communicate with him to make sure we have a plan.”
Other changes have included family discussions about living a heart–healthy lifestyle, especially making conscious decisions to eat better. “I have a daughter and two sons. I know that there’s a genetic connection to me and I’ve given them those genes so now we talk about what we can do to lower their chances of heart disease.”
Hawes further explained that she is surrounded by people who make her accountable. “Since I’ve been in the newspaper, it does make things a little awkward. I’m always concerned about who’s going to see me. I don’t want to send out mixed signals and I don’t want to be a bad example so I’m definitely conscious about that.”
Along with making healthier food choices, Hawes also has become more active and joined a running club. “While I’m still an uppercase walker and lowercase runner, it just has me out and about more, doing things I never would have thought about before,” she said. Hawes and her family now participate in exercise and running clubs.
Marian Taylor, M.D., a cardiologist and assistant professor in MUSC’s Division of Cardiology and Go Red supporter, said Go Red events educate women about heart disease, which is important because two thirds of all women in the U.S. have at least one major risk factor for coronary heart disease and, more often than not, they have more than one risk factor.
Taylor, who attended the Go Red Run Heart 5K Run and Walk with Hawes on Feb. 1, added that it’s important for women to be informed about heart disease as more than one half of women who die of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.
“Twenty–three percent of women will die within one year of having a heart attack and two–thirds of women who have a heart attack fail to make a full recovery,” Taylor said.
See the MUSC News Center for the full multmedia package http://www.musc.edu/pr/newscenter/2014/GoRed.html.