Get Heart Smart: Show Your Support For African American Women’s Heart Health

The tragic death of my mother still sears—still haunts me. There are days when I just, like, need her. That has been especially true over the past year, and certainly more so over the past few weeks. It’s been a bit rough out here. And now, as her birthday approaches, I’m thinking, as I do every year, about the particulars—the whys, the hows, the what-could-have -beens.

See, my mother didn’t have to die. Not in the way that she did. Not as soon as she did. She was only 62 when a heart attack sapped her of life—stole her breath. Slowly. Surely. In the most textbook of ways. At least five days before she passed, she was experiencing a series of flu-like symptoms—shortness of breath, weakness, unusual fatigue, dizziness, back pain. These were symptoms she was convinced she could shake. What she and our family failed to realize, though, is that my mother was experiencing all the classic female symptoms that signal a heart attack is imminent—signs of which all-too-many of us are completely unaware.

And so today, in the name of my mother, Bettye Millner, I implore each of you reading this post to GET AWARE. Know that:

  • Women tend not to have the clutch-your-heart, movie-styled heart attacks that men have; our symptoms are more likely to include all those that my mother experienced, plus nausea, lower chest discomfort, upper abdominal pressure and nausea.
  • Women can exhibit symptoms up to a week before their heart muscles suffer irreparable damage, leading us to believe that we’re suffering from something other than a heart attack.
  • Heart attacks are the leading cause of death among all women, but black women are affected in even greater numbers, particularly because the risk factors associated with heart disease include diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure—huge health issues for us.
  • It’s critical that we keep our heart muscles strong through exercise, weight control, healthy eating, refraining from smoking and watching our cholesterol and blood pressure.

I’m writing about this today not just to honor the memory of my mother, but also because I’m supporting Diet Coke’s The Heart Truth® campaign to raise awareness about women’s heart health. Thanks to the campaign, which is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), more than half (54%) of women now recognize that heart disease is their leading cause of death, up from 30% in 1997.

But there is more work to do. Today, I hope in reading this post that you’re inspired to lend your voices for the cause by spreading awareness for The Heart Truth® campaign and women’s heart health programs by wearing red and showing your heart THIS WEEK (1/23 – 1/27). Take a photo of yourself rocking red and post it on TumblrTwitter or Instagram and tag it #ShowYourHeart to let others know you’re boning up on your heart health info and that they should, too.

Know, too, that if you do choose to share your picture, you will be entered for a chance to win one of five trips for you and a friend to attend The Red Dress Collection Fashion Show in New York City—a super fun experience I had the pleasure of attending last year. Of the five winners, one will be selected to go on a shopping spree with a New York City fashionista. The rules are simple:

Upload a photo of yourself wearing at least one red artcle of clothing in support of women’s heart health onto twitter, tumblr or, if you have an iPhone, on Instagram.

Tweet, share or post a picture and publish your submission photo. Be sure to include the #ShowYourHeart hashtag.

After the conclusion of each day, a panel of qualified judges determined by Diet Coke will select the best submission.  You can check out the official rules and prize details at


1. I’ll Always Love My Mama
2. Smart Heart Health: Black Women CAN Save Themselves From Needless Tragedy
3. How Do You Win the War On Childhood Obesity? Plant A Vegetable Garden With Your Kids

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Denene Millner

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.


  1. Very inspiring and educational. I thought I knew more about this, until I read this article. While, I learn something everyday. Thanks for this. And my condolences for your loss. Truly she was a beautifully woman and she shines through you. 🙂

  2. The American Heart Association also has a campaign that targets women and the unique symptoms that women experience during heart attacks, often dismissed by health care professionals. It’s called Go Red for Women: It’s a wonderful website, particularly useful for tools to assist you in adopting changes in cooking, and exercise habits.

  3. I got really excited when I heard about Diet’s Coke’s campaign. For me, it’s inspiring to see big brands pay attention to heart disease because it’s affected my life so much. My family is at high-risk for heart disease, and I have to be really careful about living heart healthy. I read books all the time to make sure I’m on track- one of my favorites is “The Wisdom of Heart Health” by Dr. Ramin Manshadi ( Sometimes dealing with my condition feels like a little bubble, but then I see campaigns like this and it’s reassuring. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. Denene, your post really spoke to me. Last year – January 30th to be exact – my beloved mother- in-law who was living with me and my husband and our son, died of a heart attack at age 62 as well. The symptoms you described are the same ones Mom (she was like a second mother to me) had to a tee. Because it was January and in the midst of flu season, we thought she had the flu. A couple of times, I tried to convince her to go to the ER but she said she would be okay and I didn’t press her any more. Late that night she collapsed in her room and for almost an hour the fire department and paramedics worked on her to revive her. She didn’t make it. Had I known then what I know now about women and heart attacks, I would have forced her to go the Dr. even if I had to drag her there. I am haunted by the fact that if only we had known those symptoms she might be with us today. What if. What if. It’s hard to get past the what if’s but somehow you have to. She was the center of our family and there are no words to express how much I miss her. She taught me how to be a mother. The way I honor her memory is by volunteering to spread the word about women and heart disease though the American Heart Association. This is a cause for me now that I understand how much this disease affects women and especially those in our community.

    Thanks for sharing your story and reminding us that none us can take our health for granted and we all owe it to ourselves to learn about women and heart disease. It could save a life.

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