Ridgefield women's groups plan 'Have a Heart' walk
The goal of the walk, on May 12 from 1 to 3 p.m. around the mile-long walking trails that surround the Ridgefield Recreation Center on 195 Danbury Road, is to increase awareness of heart disease in women.
"More than 500,000 women in the United States are affected by heart disease each year," said Dr. Susan Mani of Bedford, N.Y., cardiologist and director of the Women's Heart Advantage Program at Danbury Hospital. The Heart Advantage Program, created at the hospital in 2005, is part of a national program that educates people in the community about cardiac disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women, and is responsible for more deaths than the next seven leading causes of death for women put together, said Mani.
"People always mistakenly assume that cancer is the number one killer," she said.
The four Ridgefield clubs who are sponsoring the heart walk are the Kiwanis Club, the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, and the Women's Club. "We all discussed what we can do jointly to bring more awareness to this national concern," said Emelie Howard, 71, of Ridgefield, member of the Lions Club.
Howard, who is chairwoman of the walk, knows first hand what it's like to be personally affected by heart disease. In a span of two and a half years, she had three heart attacks.
Eleven years ago, what Howard thought was an upper respiratory infection turned out to be Valvular disease. Howard had her first open heart surgery and had an artificial valve placed into her heart. Within the year, she was playing tennis in Ridgefield when she felt very ill. After being rushed to Danbury Hospital, she was told that the artificial valve had to be replaced with a human valve.
Howard said she is alive today because she made it a point to thoroughly educate herself on heart disease, including all its symptoms. According to Mani, in addition to chest discomfort or pain, women can get such atypical symptoms as shortness of breath, fatigue, and abdominal complaints, including severe nausea.
"What's frightening about this," said Mani, "is that when women experience these symptoms, they don't think it has to do with their heart and will delay seeking medical attention."
If women are made aware of the risk factors of heart disease, they can have more control over the prevention of it. Risk factors include increasing age, hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol, as well as a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, obesity, and a family history of heart disease, said Mani.
Funds raised from the heart walk will go towards supporting the Women's Heart Advantage Program and the Women's Informational Heart Program at the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association.
Ideally, Howard said she would like to see a women's heart support group formed where heart disease survivors can visit or correspond with one another on a regular basis.
"I could have greatly used this service right after my surgery," she said.
"The Heart Walk represents the second event this year where the four Ridgefield groups have come together to bring awareness to heart disease," said Robin Matthews, 43, of Bethel, Ridgefield's assistant recreation director. The first was held in February at the Ridgefield Recreation Center where Mani gave a presentation and a "heart healthy" meal was provided.
"We scheduled the heart walk next to Mother's Day because we hope to make it a family affair, since heart disease affects the entire family, and not just women," said Matthews.
Howard said she is hoping to see at least 300 people participate in the walk. She said she feels that she's come a long way from where she was over a decade ago. She just traveled to San Francisco to attend her son's 50th birthday party."I feel so fortunate that I could be there for it," said Howard. "If things had turned out differently, I may not have been so lucky."
To register for the "Have a Heart Walk," contact Robin Matthews at (203) 431-2755 by May 9, or visit www.ridgefieldct.org and click on the EzREC link. A minimum $100 sponsorship fee per participant is required. Make checks out to the Ridgefield Lions Heart Fund. Offsite parking and shuttle service will be provided.