None of us were ready for the parting not my Mari, who adored her Gamma and wanted at least another few days with the woman who treated her like a princess; not my mother, who wanted to visit with her granddaughters a little while longer; not me, who could never get enough of watching my babies get hugged on and kissed on and loved on by their grandmother, who loved them so. But mommy was on her way to a family reunion down in South Carolina and I had to get back home to get ready for work and it was getting late. And so we said our good-byes. I can still see my mother’s face how beautiful she looked, waving and blowing kisses from the front stoop as I pulled out of the driveway with her grandbabies. We blew kisses back my Mari and I. And we said it again and again and some more: I love you.
I never saw my mother again.
She flew down to South Carolina on the Wednesday, feeling a little out of it lethargic. Achy. Like she was catching a cold. The next day, she was dizzy and weak and her back was aching. Over the next two days, all of her symptoms got worse so bad that by the time my aunt and uncle had my father convince my mother that she should go to the hospital, she could no longer speak, let alone object to their calling 911. By Sunday, my mother passed on from here. She died of complications from a heart attack.
I miss her so. And in the quiet moments, when I’m not thinking about what was, I’m considering what could have been—specifically, whether my mother would have lived had everyone around her recognized that for the five days leading up to her death, she was exhibiting the symptoms most common for female heart attack victims.
It wasn’t until after my mother died that I found out there are differences. I mean, you know how it all happens on TV and the movies: A person in mid-heart attack clutches his chest, loses his ability to speak or breathe and falls out in the most dramatic of fashions. Someone shoves an aspirin in his mouth and everything is all good, amen. But heart attacks don’t reveal themselves the same way in women. Indeed, a study of women’s early heart attack signs published in Circulation say common female heart attack symptoms include:
¢ shortness of breath (57.9%)
¢ weakness (54.8%)
¢ unusual fatigue (42.9%)
¢ Lower chest discomfort
¢ Upper abdominal pressure or discomfort that may feel like indigestion
¢ Back pain
What’s more, the WebMD article on which I found this study said that women can exhibit these symptoms up to a week before their heart muscles suffer irreparable damage, leading us to believe that we’re suffering from something anything other than a heart attack.
This is why it’s critical that we women not only do what it takes to keep our heart muscles strong exercise, keep our weight at normal levels, eat healthy foods, watch our cholesterol and blood pressure, refrain from smoking but spread the word and learn the facts about heart disease and specifically how it affects women. For sure, we African American women need to pay more attention to heart disease, as while it is the leading cause of death among all women, it affects black women at even greater numbers, particularly because the risk factors associated with heart disease including diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure tend to be huge health issues with us.
Recently, Diet Coke reached out to MyBrownBaby to invite me and my homegirl/co-author Mitzi Miller of Mitzi Moments to New York City to attend The Heart Truth® Red Dress Collection Fashion Show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and Diet Coke’sPre-Show Reception an event designed to help stir up discussion about heart health among women and ways we can help raise money to research and fight the heart disease. The event supports a national awareness campaign sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. It was an amazing evening full of great conversation, including a panel discussion led by Bravo’s Andy Cohen, heart healthy food, and, of course, a star-studded show fashion show with some of our favorite entertainers and personalities—boxer Laila Ali, rapper-turned-actress Eve, songstress Patti LaBelle, newscaster Ann Curry, and actresses Taraji P. Henson and Garcelle Beauvais strutting the catwalk in designer red dresses. The information I’m sharing today is part of the message Diet Coke and many other organizations dedicated to keeping women healthy shared with me, and I thought it only fitting to pass it on.
But this isn’t the only reason I’m writing about heart health. Not even close. I write about these things because my family suffered a great loss over not knowing these facts. And if this post can spare just one mother from harm, one daughter from grief, one granddaughter from losing out on getting to know her Gamma, then I’ve done good in the name of Bettye Millner, my mom.
For more information on women and heart health, check out these awesome organizations:
NHLBI Health Information Center
American Heart Association
Phone: 1-888-MY HEART
WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease
Office on Women’s Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Women’s Health Information Center Phone: 1-800-994-WOMAN TDD: 1-888-220-5446 www.womenshealth.gov
You should also check out Diet Coke’s Heart Truth web page, which is full of recipes and exercise, hydration and eating tips designed to improve heart health. The site also highlights super cutie ways viewers can trigger Diet Coke donations for heart-worthy organizations during the month of February the month earmarked to celebrate and highlight heart health.
And a bonus: Campbell’s Soup, also a big supporter of Heart Health month, is making a $1 donation to the American Hear Association’s Go Red For Women movement, up to $625,000, for every video viewed on CampbellsAdDressYourHeart.com. Dude, seriously I can’t think of an easier way to help save women’s lives. GO WATCH THE VIDEOS NOW!
And take care of yourselves, ladies. For your babies. For your men. For yourself.
Diet Coke paid for my travel and accommodations to the heart health event, but obviously, the passion and thought behind this post are all my own. I say this because the IRS says I have to but each of you knows my heart and the true reason I write posts like these. Full disclosure just so you know.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.