The number one killer of American women, heart disease strikes down more women than all cancers combined – no matter their race or ethnicity.
About 150 women digested these sober statistics along with a heart-healthy lunch Sunday at the third annual Go Red Affair sponsored by Baptist Health South Florida at Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort.
As suggested in the invitation, the message was delivered to the audience in several ways, topped off by an interactive game of Jeopardy.
Dr. Yvonne Johnson, who directs the hospital’s Heart Attack Unit, further underscored the sobering statistics, noting that one of every two women will die of heart disease.
To illustrate the point, Johnson said, "Turn to the woman next to you, one of you will die of heart disease."
Johnson observed, "We all will die, of course, but don’t let it happen before God’s intended time."
With that goal in mind, Johnson spoke to the women about lowering heart disease risk, healthy lifestyle changes, lowering cholesterol, avoiding stress—and even sex and eating chocolate.
Johnson spoke knowledgeably to the gathering of mostly middle-age West Indian women, clad in an array of bright red outfits to honor the day, about matters close to their hearts.
And she hit a bull’s-eye. She had the audience in her hand when she spoke of her own upbringing.
"I’ve never been to the Virgin Islands," said the slender, fit Johnson, "but I understand the local culture. I was born on St. Kitts," she said. "I know what growing up here is like."
With a knowing smile, she said, "My father would always tell me. ‘Eat more—a man likes a woman with a few love handles.’"
She spoke about how those "love handles" can be the death of us, if we don’t watch our diet and then asked the audience to volunteer information on what she called "the numbers that can save our lives.”
When she asked the audience about normal blood pressure numbers, the crowd heartily responded with “120/80.”
But the audience didn’t do as well on knowing their blood glucose ranges, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, or body mass index (BMI).
She distributed purse-size pocket-pals to keep after being screened for the above conditions.
Like a mantra she came back to the heart of the matter: "Go to your doctor, track your numbers, they will save your life.”
After a heart-healthy luncheon—green salad, fresh vegetables, pasta salad, baked chicken, fruit and yogurt—Master of Ceremonies Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone joked with the women that they could still have sweet potato stuffing, mac and cheese and johnny cake, "but once every couple weeks, not every day."
Johnson said, "Women are more likely to suffer their first heart attach without previous symptoms—pain and discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulders, arms and back, dizziness, cold sweats, nausea—and women are more likely to die of their first heart attack."
"However," she said. "the good news is that it can be prevented. There are two factors you can’t control: your age and your parentage. Everything else is up to you.”
"Start today," she urged. "Follow a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, limit salt; be physically active—30 minutes of moderate activity at least five days a week, even walking; stop smoking; manage your diabetes; control blood pressure; maintain a healthy weight; drink no more than one alcoholic drink a day; get check-ups at local clinics; know your numbers."
"These aren’t radical life style changes; but they will save your life," she added.
Next, it was time to play Jeopardy. The board was set up on a screen like the real thing, but the categories included: “Fruits, vegetables and chocolate,” “Mind, body and sex,” “Know your numbers,” and “They tried to get me to go to rehab.”
Johnson asked, "For $100, how much sugar are you allowed a day?" Answer: 100 calories. Nobody got that one. "Fruit, vegetables?" Answer: Five servings a day. Most got that.
And chocolate? "Yes," Johnson answered to everyone’s surprise. "Dark chocolate has flavonoids, which can lower cholesterol, but in small amounts, a daily nibble."
Now, about sex. Needless to say, she had the room’s attention. "Coming out of rehab, how soon can you resume your sex life?" No answers. "Two weeks," Johnson said, "as long as you can run up a flight of stairs without panting."
Many women remarked they couldn’t do that today—heart attack or no—further underlining the need for attention to their own bodies.
"I had no idea about cholesterol levels," said one woman. Another praised the information about where a heart attack can occur. "I had no idea about the shoulder area, the jaw," she said stroking her shoulders. "I’ve had pains here; I’ve got to see about."
Johnson left the women with an abundance of sources to consult.
The internet abounds with information on maintaining healthy heart:
—National Women’s Health Information Center
—National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
—WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease