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HerStory: Candice Harrison - The Chair of GoRed for Women Luncheon

When I was first approached to consider chairing the GoRed for Women Luncheon here in Toledo, I initially said, no. It sounded like a really heavy lift (which it is) and like something I just didn’t have the capacity to manage. But, then I learned that heart disease is the #1 killer of women. And that the disparity even within women was even greater. Like, women are least likely to receive bystander CPR and black women are even less likely. That didn’t sit well with me.

When I began thinking about “why” I would do this, I had a flashback to 2004. I was 26 and working in a local high school at the time. During my lunch break, I always spent time talking to my grandmother who would give me the tea on the Young and the Restless. Once I graduated from college, I no longer had the time to watch it, but that would be our time together. My grandmother raised me, and when I became a mom and began my career, It was important to keep that daily communication. Lunch break seemed to be the sweet spot for timing for us. We laughed as usual and she let me know she needed to get off of the phone because she had to make some runs. A few hours had passed and I happened to look at my phone and noticed several calls from my father. All with voicemails. That was very weird because he knew I was working.

I called him -slightly irritated- because why on earth would you be calling me so many times while I’m working? He didn’t answer. So, I began to listen to the voicemails. To my devastation, it was him calling me to tell me that my grandmother was sick and I needed to get to the hospital because they DIDN’T KNOW IF SHE WOULD MAKE IT. I capitalized that because I need you to understand the way that crushed my soul. I didn’t know what happened, or how could have happened in the short time between when we hung up and now. It was too much.

I arrived at the hospital to learn that she had a stroke. She had been experiencing symptoms that unbeknownst to her were stroke symptoms. She had no brain activity and the moment I laid eyes on her, I knew the woman who had reared me and raised me to be the woman I am, was gone. She would die just a few days later. The hole that was left in my spirit is still there.

So, back to now. It’s 20 years later and I’m asked to chair the GoRed for Women Luncheon. I know some of the health-related stats, but in working with the amazing team at AHA, I’ve learned so much more and many of them are alarming.

Here are some of the stats according to the American Heart Association :

  • Heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 killer in women, and stroke disproportionately affects Black women. Importantly, Black women are less likely than Caucasian women to be aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death.

  • Diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, physical inactivity, obesity, and a family history of heart disease are all greatly prevalent among Black women and are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. What’s more, Black women have almost two times the risk of stroke than Caucasians and are more likely to die at an earlier age when compared to women of other ethnicities.

Here are a few unsettling stats:

  • Cardiovascular diseases kill more than 50,000 Black women annually. Stroke is a leading cause of death among Black women.

  • Among Black women ages 20 and older, nearly 59% have cardiovascular disease.

  • Only 39% of Black women are aware that chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack; only 33% recognize that pain spreading to the shoulder, neck, or arms is another potential heart attack sign.

  • Among Black women ages 20 years and older, nearly 58% have high blood pressure and only around 20% of those women have their blood pressure under control.

I decided to take it on. Because, if I can help to lead an event that will help women fight for their lives, I’m in! If I can help women learn the signs so that they can live to see their children (and grandchildren) grow, I’m in. If I can participate in something that challenges me to take better care of MYSELF, I’m in. If I can save one person from ever receiving the devastating call I received on that February day in 2004, I’m in.

"My involvement in the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women ELT to help advance women’s heart health is personal. My mother experienced two strokes, and watching her and other loved ones go through such health challenges motivated me to want to stand with other women, to support initiatives that raise awareness, promote prevention and support research efforts to reduce the impact of heart disease on women's lives, including my own."

-Kelli Winston

My father died of a massive heart attack at age 51, my maternal grandfather and three uncles died of heart attacks and heart-related issues, and I REFUSE to carry on that legacy. Instead, I will CARRY out the legacy as outlined in my Heart Legacy Imprint Manifesto (see attached). I vow to repeat and live this often: "I VOW to take care of my heart, with all of my heart, by modeling these TEN steps, behind the scenes and in front of people. Leading by example will create a legacy that will imprint into my life, and inspire others to do the same."
-Diana Patton
My life is full of people impacted by heart disease. My grandfather passed away from a heart attack and was buried on my first birthday. In my parents’ generation both my mother and father have had heart issues and several serious surgeries—however, advances in detection and treatment ensured that both of them are still with me today. I volunteered for the Executive Leadership Team of the Go Red for Women campaign to honor them and because I’m thankful that research and their wonderful doctors and nurses have ensured my children will know their grandparents. I want to ensure that my and my daughters’ generations not only survive heart disease but thrive in a world where its impacts continue to be lessened by science.
-Betsy Hurner

Are you in?

Join us for the GoRed for Women Luncheon on February 29, 2024, at the Glass City Center in downtown Toledo. If you can’t make it, learn, share, and use Life’s Essential 8 which are the key measures for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health, as defined by the American Heart Association. Better cardiovascular health helps lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other major health problems as a means of support. Together, we will fight against the #1 killer of women and create more love, more joy, and more life for ourselves and women everywhere.

Register for the GoRed for Women Luncheon:

Thank you Candice for sharing your story via our #HerStory campaign and blog!

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Thank you Candice, Kelli, Diana, and Betsy for sharing your story and for stats to show the impact of heart disease in women! Candice, you got this!

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