By Paul Lonardo
The 2019 Southern New England Go Red For Women Luncheon took place on February 14 at the Rhode Island Convention Center and was attended by hundreds of women. It was no coincidence that Valentine’s Day was chosen, as Go Red For Women, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, is The American Heart Association’s signature women’s initiative, a comprehensive platform designed to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke in women.
The program was made possible with the support of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island, which made a generous contribution to the American Heart Association in the name of Heart2Heart Survivors. Other local sponsors included Lifespan Corporation, Fidelity Investments, and CVS, the national sponsor of the Go Red For Women Luncheon.
The harsh reality is that cardiovascular diseases, which includes stroke, remain the nation’s leading health threats to women. In fact, heart disease takes the lives of more women than all forms of cancer combined, with heart disease and stroke claiming 1 in 3 women. The good news is that these diseases are 80% preventable with education and lifestyle changes.
To treat, beat and prevent heart disease and stroke, women should understand family health history as well as their key personal health numbers (which include blood pressure, cholesterol, weight/body mass index) to help determine risk and make healthy behavior changes, which include a healthy diet and exercise.
Cumberland’s Jamie Coyle, who was one of three contributors in the 2019 Class ofHeart2Heart Storytellers at this year’s Go Red For Women Luncheon, had no way of knowing she was at any risk in 2008 when she suffered a stroke. She was just twelve years old at the time.
Jamie was healthy and an exceptional youth hockey player, and was playing in a hockey game when the incident occurred. Her stroke was precipitated by a debilitating headache that brought her to her knees. A moment later, while she was lying on the ground and unable to move, no one could have imagined that she had suffered a stroke.
Stories like Jamie’s are the reason Go Red for Women Luncheons are organized. As well as raising awareness, these events also raise critically-needed funds to support research and education initiatives which saves lives.
Go Red For Women has clearly made considerable progress toward its goal of raising awareness among women that heart disease is their greatest health threat. According to the American Heart Association, before Go Red For Women was established, only 30 percent of women recognized this sobering fact. Today, nearly 56 percent of women recognize this – that’s a 90 percent increase in awareness and over 670,000 lives saved.
However, there is more work to be done. Jamie still comes across people who are shocked to learn that she suffered a stroke at such a young age. This is what motivates her.
“Ever since I had my stroke, I wanted to raise awareness about pediatric stroke,” Jamie says. “In the beginning, it was hard to talk about. I was self-conscious about it and embarrassed, but I know how much good can come from talking about it.”
Pediatric stroke is considered rare, affecting 6 of every 100,000 children from birth to age 18.
For Jamie, her stroke was just over ten years ago, and she wants people to know that it can happen to anyone at any time.
“I’m going to stay involved with the American Heart Association because the most important thing is raising awareness and letting people know that it can happen at any age,” she says. “Hopefully I will have an opportunity in the future to be involved in more events like this, and do more public speaking. I think that’s what I was meant to do.”
Jamie has created an Instagram account called Stroke Survivors Never Quit. https://www.instagram.com/strokesurvivorsneverquit/?utm_source=ig_profile_share&igshid=5ke7gvbzt0ds
“It’s all about people sharing their stories, in their own words, to motivate and inspire other,” Jamie says.
Her book, THE LUCKIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD, an autobiographical account of how her stroke at age twelve impacted her life, is available in electronic and print format on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
To learn more visit GoRedforWomen.org and to donate by phone call 1-800-AHA-USA1