American Heart Association
Intro: Meet Susan Lucci
Heart disease—it’s the #1 cause of death for women worldwide, claiming more lives than all cancers combined. Yet, according to the American Heart Association, only 1 in 5 women view heart disease as their greatest health threat. And it’s often because cardiovascular issues are thought of as a man’s concern, leading women to ignore warning signs and risk factors.
Downplaying symptoms or delaying medical care—so many of us can relate to this. Just ask Susan Lucci, Emmy-award winning actress, New York Times best-selling author and National Ambassador to the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Movement. In 2018, Lucci, a typically energetic and healthy woman on the go, suddenly felt an intense pressure on her chest one afternoon. She shrugged it off, thinking it would just “go away.” Later, she found out she had a 90% blockage in her main artery and a 75% blockage in the adjacent artery.
“You know, that's the thing with women, we often just think it's nothing, it'll go away," Lucci tells us. "We also don't put ourselves on our to-do list. We take care of our home, children, husbands and extended families... we are always last on that list. I was so sure that the doctor would think I was overreacting and send me home. And I felt bad that I was taking this prominent doctor away from his patients.” Had Susan not gone to the hospital that day, she would have suffered a heart attack—most likely a fatal one, a.k.a. the widow maker.
As we start the new year, we’re proud to name Lucci our first #VBGIVESBACK woman of the quarter and advocate for her cause, the American Heart Association, to shine a light on cardiovascular disease. “I knew if I could share my story, it might help save another woman’s life,” she says, adding that nearly 60% of stroke deaths are in women and that, each year, approximately 55,000 more females than males have a stroke. Hers is a true wake-up call. Even those of us in our 30s and 40s are more than twice as likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than breast cancer.
Here at Veronica Beard, we have always been about women supporting women—that’s why this initiative is especially important for us. All quarter long, from now until the end of March, donations made by Veronica Beard and our customers will support the American Heart Association’s Life is Why campaign. We hope you join us in giving back.
Powered by more than 40 million volunteers and supporters as well as 2,800 employees nationwide, the American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke and driving equitable health for all.
To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. The American Heart Association believes every person deserves the opportunity for a full, healthy life. As champions for health equity, its goal by 2024 is to advance cardiovascular health for all, including identifying and removing barriers to health care access and quality.
1. The American Heart Association is working to achieve equitable health in all communities by seeking expansion of the public health infrastructure and advocating for better healthy food access and quality, affordable and equitable health care, education and housing. It is boosting quality of health care with programs that improve data collection on race, ethnicity and social factors as well as building an antiracism research agenda, recruiting and developing members from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and reorganizing scientific councils to prioritize diversity.
2. The American Heart Association funds innovative research to help save and improve lives. Thanks to the generosity of donors and supporters, the American Heart Association has invested more than $4.9 billion in research, making it the largest not-for-profit funding source for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease research next to the federal government.
3. It is working to ensure that every person has access to quality healthcare and, by working with hospitals, is closing the window of time for heart and stroke patients to receive quality care, giving them a better chance of thriving and surviving.
4. The organization is also developing initiatives that are implemented in communities to enhance the quality and length of life for every person living in the U.S. In addition to evidence-based strategies for prevention and health management, it provides support to address complex health challenges for communities around the U.S.
5. The American Heart Association is bringing positive change to the laws that govern us, too. With support from our advocates, it pushes for more cardiovascular research funding for the National Institutes of Health and is advocating for health policies that focus on improving health care, historically disadvantaged communities and ensuring that everyone has equal access to care.
No, beyond the U.S. borders, the American Heart Association delivers lifesaving programs and trainings in 101 countries, including the Go Red for Women initiative in nearly 50 countries, First Aid and CPR training in 87 countries and programs to improve quality of care in hospitals in China and the Middle East. Since 2012, the Association has committed more than $2.5 million to direct global health research and studies.
Heart disease is the number one killer worldwide; stroke ranks second globally. These and other cardiovascular diseases result in the death of 18.6 million people worldwide every year. Even when those conditions don’t result in death, they cause disability and diminish quality of life. Right now, in the U.S. alone, 126.9 million adults have some form of cardiovascular disease—that’s about the population of California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania combined. It's also a health equity issue, with African Americans and Hispanics bearing the greatest burden of disease. Approximately 60% of Black men and women and more than half of Hispanic men and 43% Hispanic of women have some form of cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined, and the leading cause of maternal death in the U.S.—or more simply put, heart disease is the number one killer of new moms. Plus, nearly 60% of stroke deaths are in women—roughly 55,000 more females than males have a stroke—and the majority of deaths from high blood pressure are in women (nearly 52%) as well. Women in their 30s and 40s are more than twice as likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than breast cancer, too.
Three years ago, I had a heart event myself and I knew if I could share my story, it might help save another woman’s life. That's how I became involved with the American Heart Association and its Go Red for Women movement.
I've never had any health issues. Then one day, I was in a restaurant with my husband, waiting to be seated, and felt a slight pressure on my chest. It passed by the time we were seated at our table. But the same thing happened two weeks later. And then two weeks after that. While shopping for a friend's birthday present, I suddenly felt a pressure, like an elephant pressing on my chest. This time, I couldn't ignore it. The manager took me to Saint Francis Hospital, which was only a mile down the road—talk about good luck. But even in the car, I was thinking to myself, this is probably going to go away, I have too much to do today…
I had surgery that evening. It turned out I had a 90% blockage in my main artery and a 75% blockage in the adjacent artery. I would have most likely had a fatal heart attack. I know if I had been home, instead of out, I would have thought I just needed to drink some water and lie down. I might not have woken up.
There's nothing that could have been discovered earlier in my checkups. It turned out the blockage was not cholesterol. It was genetic—my dad had had a calcium blockage, which is what I wound up having.
I urge women to pay attention to whatever symptoms you might be having. Listen to your body and put yourself at the top of your to-do list, because losing even one woman to heart disease is not an option.
The doctor who saved my life told me that nobody needs to die of a heart attack. The truth is that heart disease and stroke are preventable in most cases, if we make healthy choices. Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Treat high blood pressure, if you have it. Control your blood sugar and cholesterol, see your doctor for regular check-ups and take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Maintain a healthy weight—eat a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat, added sugar, trans fat, and sodium (salt) and, for adults, get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
It is also important to understand that while lifestyle factors impact health outcome, social influencers of health—such as access to healthy food, affordable housing and economic growth—can affect 80% to 90% of a person’s health risk factors. Structural racism—defined as a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms perpetuate racial inequity—is also a fundamental cause of persistent health disparities in the country. That's why the American Heart Association believes in addressing the drivers of health disparities, including the social influencers of health and structural racism—that's the only way to truly achieve equitable health and wellbeing for all.
“I knew if I could share my story, it might help save another woman’s life.”
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you experience:
1. Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes—or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
2. Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
3. Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
4. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
It's important to remember that symptoms vary between men and women. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain (angina) or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
When it comes to stroke, women and men share common symptoms like face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, vision problems, trouble walking or lack of coordination, severe headache without a known cause. But women also can experience more subtle warning signs, including general weakness, disorientation and confusion or memory problems, fatigue and nausea or vomiting.
The American Heart Association’s work has resulted in 71% reduction in cardiovascular disease deaths since 1968, 53% reduction in coronary heart disease deaths since 1999 and 40% reduction in stroke deaths since 1999. Since its founding in 1949, it has invested more than $4.9 billion in research, making it the largest not-for-profit funding source for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease research next to the federal government. It's funded 13 Nobel Prize winners and research funded by the Association has led to lifesaving advancements, including the artificial heart valve, cholesterol-inhibiting drugs, heart transplant capabilities and CPR techniques and guidelines.
The American Heart Association has really stepped up to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 by investing a minimum of $2.5 million to investigate the cardiovascular implications of coronavirus; helping accelerate antiviral drugs to combat COVID-19; partnering in communities to strengthen access to nutrition therapy, feeding assistance programs, and healthy food; meeting the needs of health care workers dealing with the coronavirus pandemic; and teaching hospitals and communities how to safely and effectively administer CPR, among many other great works.
One of the most gratifying things I've had the opportunity to do with the American Heart Association was going to Washington D.C. in 2019 to lobby for more funding for women's research. Until recently, this has been typically thought of as a man's disease—for every four dollars that goes into research for men, only 17 cents is allocated for women. It's shocking.
I've been very lucky to have people come up to me and tell me about seeing me in All My Children, Devious Maids, Broadway and whatnot, but I've also had a lot of people now tell me about their health experience. It's very heartening to hear how many women are surviving because they've heard my story and put themselves on their to-do list.
While it's made considerable progress in the fight against cardiovascular disease over the years, the American Heart Association has had some setback as a result of COVID-19. In 2020, heart disease, stroke and diabetes increased by 5%, 6% and 15%, respectively. And 2020 was a challenging year for health equity, with COVID-19 exposing and exacerbating health disparities. Life expectancy decreased by three years in Hispanic people, 2.9 years in Black people and 1.2 years in white people. COVID-19 has caused a tidal wave, which will continue to have a lasting impact on health and the health care system far beyond the treatment of the disease itself. That is why now more than ever American Heart Association’s work as champions for health equity is vital.
The organization also faces the challenge of addressing social influencers of health and structural racism and its impact on health justice in the country. The American Heart Association believes that addressing these drivers of health disparities is the only way to truly achieve equitable health and wellbeing for all. There are opportunities to invest in community-led solutions through the American Heart Association’s social impact fund to support local organizations or individuals that understand their own communities best and already are working on solutions to improve health.
Cardiovascular diseases are largely preventable, and yet they are the leading cause of death in the United States each year. The lack of funding for heart and stroke-related science and research is a huge part of that problem. Each year, more and more investigators look to the American Heart Association to fund their advancements, but the pool of dollars is not large enough to accommodate every idea. For example, in 2019–2020 [the fiscal year], it received 3,555 more applications, totaling more than $817.7 million that it could not fund. Any of these research projects could have resulted in a significant breakthrough in treating heart disease or stroke.
While we have made dramatic progress in improving health and reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases, the fact remains that after more than 90 years, heart disease still remains our number one killer. By working alongside the American Heart Association, you can make a difference in improving the health of your loved ones and future generations. People can get involved by volunteering at one of our committees or through an event, encouraging corporate and community support through your circle of influence, serving as an advocate for healthy policies, or donating to our mission. When you support the American Heart Association, you are making a dramatic impact in advancing cardiovascular health for all, including identifying and removing barriers to health care access and quality.
Value yourself. Prioritize yourself. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. It's like when you're on the plane and they remind you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping someone else. If you are not healthy and well, then you can't continue to help the people you love or be in their lives. By helping yourself and taking care of yourself, by giving yourself permission to prioritize your health, you are also helping the other people you love—your children, your husband, your family, your community.
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