Heart disease takes more women's lives than all cancers combined

Posted at 8:41 AM, Feb 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-03 10:41:50-05

"Seeing red" has taken on new meaning in the Boise area this week: it's Go Red for Women Week, a movement by the American Heart Association that encourages women to take control of and understand their own personal heart health.

It's an urgent cause, since heart disease and stroke are currently the number one killer of women in the US. And if you're a woman who thinks something like cardiac arrest could never happen to you, one young Boise mother will tell you, don't be so sure.

That’s because on January 11, 2014, Angela Creason’s life took a dramatic and unexpected turn. Angela was reaching for her phone early in the morning when her husband Jeremiah - who had decided on a whim not to go to the gym that morning - heard something unusual. "It started sounding like I was choking,” Angela says, “so he jumped out of bed, turned on the light…And he said the second he looked at me he knew something had gone wrong."

Angela, just 33 years old at the time, had gone into sudden cardiac arrest and within seconds was unresponsive. Amazingly, Jeremiah knew exactly what to do thanks to on-the-job training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

Jeremiah also called 911, and when first responders arrived 6 minutes later, they took over CPR and administered a series of defibrillator shocks to Angela's chest…but without much luck. "First shock – nothing. Second shock - nothing. Third and fourth shock - still nothing," Angela told us. "They look up and they tell him 'I don't have anything, I'm sorry.’"

After 25 agonizing minutes without a natural heartbeat, and eight total shocks to the chest, hospital doctors were able to get Angela's heart going again. But it took an induced coma, surgery and months of recuperation for her to return to normal. Still, through it all, Angela is grateful. "I almost feel like I'm an oddity because I was so blessed to get that CPR immediately and not have to experience any of the side effects that come with losing that oxygen to my brain."

While Angela does have an underlying heart condition, doctors never could pinpoint exactly what caused her cardiac arrest, though without that live-saving CPR her story would likely have ended very differently. “There are very few of us who survive a sudden cardiac arrest,” she says. “It's a 95 percent mortality rate. So there's 5 percent of us out there that can share stories."

Angela's unexplainable cardiac arrest is unusual, since 80% of cardiac events in women are preventable. And that’s what the Go Red for Women movement is all about! Julie O’Meara with the American Heart Association described it as, "A year-round campaign to really inspire and empower women to get healthy, and to start taking charge of their heart health and knowing what that means."

O'Meara says it all starts with lifestyle, and small changes can mean big things. "Changing your diet, learning your cholesterol numbers, getting your blood pressure checked, starting to move, and cutting down those sugary drinks!" She also says don't ignore warning signs that something might be wrong.

Heart disease kills more women every year than all cancers combined, so understanding your own heart health is vital. And Angela would add that knowing even basic CPR is just as vital, since you never know when someone else’s heart may need some help. "Please learn it,” she says. ”It makes such a big difference and I'm living proof that it does."

To find out more about CPR, heart health and knowing your risks, visit the Boise "Go Red for Women" page here.