Even though Jane Donald grew up knowing the risks and aftermath of heart disease, it still shook up her life when she experienced it first-hand.
The interior designer, wife and mom of two had a coronary dissection about a year and a half ago, while having an angiogram. That means her left main artery tore into two, giving the cardiologist about three and a half minutes to repair it - while Donald was awake.
"I was as close to death as you could be without dying," said Donald.
That incident was, of course, a massive wake up call that upended her life, as it does for anyone who suffers severe heart disease or stroke.
Donald's father had a massive heart attack when she was a young child, and it changed her family's life. They made exercise, healthy eating habits and stress reduction a priority, and she maintained that until she had a business and family of her own and less time for herself.
"Like many women, I believe, I started putting my health to the very bottom of the list," she said.
Still though, she knew her risk for heart disease was higher than average so when she noticed changes - increased cholesterol levels, higher blood pressure, weight gain and occasional pain in her jaw - she knew these were serious warning signs.
Donald was put into the cardiac rehab program run by Fraser Health and it was there, while exercising as her heart was being monitored, her symptoms worsened and she was sent to hospital.
After her coronary dissection - she had two major blockages - Donald returned to the cardiac rehab program for the long recovery process. It can take six months to recover from a heart operation, she noted.
"It makes you have greater appreciation for just how quickly things can change," she said. "I'm very grateful that I was given a second chance at life to be with my family."
While doing workouts at the rehab program, Donald used a rowing machine and would look at a poster of a woman sculling on a serene lake, and would think to herself she was going to learn to row one day.
Sure enough, Donald recuperated to the point where she was ready to sign up for rowing lessons, and even participated in the Head of the River regatta in a coxed quad.
Now her message to other women is to know the warning signs of heart disease, and make changes proactively.
"They don't have to be massive changes," she said. For example, the Heart and Stroke Foundation says eating five fruit and vegetables a day reduces one's risk by 20 per cent, while 150 minutes of vigorous activity a week reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes by 30 per cent. This is most important for women.
"Heart disease and stroke is actually a leading cause of death for women," said Jane Callowhill of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. "It's more than all cancers combined for women. It's actually a shocking statistic in that sense."
Most people wrongly believe heart disease affects mostly older men, but this just isn't true.
"The proportion of young adults having heart attacks remains constant, but the proportion of women is increasing," according to Dr. Karen Humphries, a researcher who specializes in women's cardiovascular health. And women generally have a poorer health status at the time of their cardiac event and recovery doesn't appear to be as quick or complete as younger men, noted the doctor.
To help get the message out that heart disease and stroke are largely preventable (80 per cent preventable), the Heart and Stroke Foundation has unveiled a new Calendar Lottery.
For $25, you can get a 2013 calendar that doubles as your ticket for a year's worth of daily, weekly and special draws for cash prizes. On the calendar are reminders and information to help people start making healthier lifestyle choices and thereby prevent heart disease and stroke.
For more information and to place orders, see heartandstroke.bc.ca/calendar. Orders made before Nov. 29 are guaranteed delivery before Christmas for those who want to give calendars as gifts. firstname.lastname@example.org
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