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A conversation with HeartScarves co-founder Marilyn Deak
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Deak group photo
Marilyn Deak (third from left, seated) and members 
of her support network with a pile of handmade HeartScarves.

Q: Marilyn, tell us about the work you do for WomenHeart including your Support Network and other community outreach?
A: My WomenHeart time is divided between running my support group, and theHeartScarves Project. Occasionally I also host events or help other coordinators with their events. My support group has become a 'caring community' of wonderful women, and we're often in touch between meetings. The HeartScarves Project is much more demanding than the group. I've developed relationships with crafts guilds, senior centers, and individuals, who make scarves for us. I look at every contact with scarf producers as a chance to do some heart health education, and over time I'm finding that the groups of producers want more and more health information.   We've also used HeartScarves for outreach. During the past several years we've had exhibits of the scarves in libraries and museums. Our group supplies scarves to several other Support Networks in the area and that all keeps me very busy. 

Q: How did you first hear about WomenHeart?
A: Through WomenHeart Champion Claire D'Andrea who was my cardiologist's nurse. 

Q: What was it that made you decide to apply to attend WomenHeart's Science & Leadership Symposium?
A: Claire said it was a "must do." She had been to the Symposium the previous year and said that it would change my life. And it did! I came to accept that I had heart disease, that I would have to be my own best advocate, and that I could be connected to a national network of Heart Sisters. 

Q: Tell us how you and WomenHeart Champion Suzie Arnegger came up with the idea of HeartScarves?
A: Suzie and I began the project before we went to the 2005 WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium. We were in cardiac rehab together and also had the same cardiologist (and cardiology nurse). When we were accepted to the Symposium, we talked about it a lot. At the same time, Suzie had just learned to knit, and scarves are what knitters learn to make first. Together, we thought that instead of having to get red dresses for the symposium, we could symbolize our 'heart affiliation' by wearing red scarves, much more portable, etc. We found that the scarves provided us with a real sense of connection, and we wanted other women with heart disease to have that same sense of connection. 

Q: Tell us about your vision for the project.
A: At first, Suzie, friends, and I made all the scarves. It was clear to us that the scarves had to be handmade; that is central to the meaning of the scarves. There truly is a feeling of caring and love that comes with handmade items. And it also became clear that there was no way that we could make the number of scarves that we projected would be needed. I contacted my hand weavers' guild, and asked if they would like to adopt our project. Working with the weavers was so successful that I could envision spreading the project through crafts guilds, first in California, and then nationally. It was a time of very grandiose thinking. Actually, I also thought of getting yarn or crafts companies to sponsor us, so I am very delighted that WomenHeart has made that happen. As serendipity would have it, at the first meeting with the weaver's guild, several members offered us wonderful gifts: contacts with other craft guilds, fundraising opportunities, and the donation of a web site. Working with the web designer and getting the web site up and running was very exciting, and I sent out the news to WomenHeart headquarters and to the 2005 WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium participants. I received many notes of encouragement, and one was from late WomenHeart Champion Tina Bradford. Tina and I shared the vision of getting WomenHeart to adopt HeartScarves at a national level. We negotiated for two years to get that to occur, and last year it did. Tina would have been delighted. 

Q: So, the program is a huge success and provides comfort to women across the country. How does it feel to see a local project that you co-founded have national impact?
A: I'm very pleased that HeartScarves is now a national project, and I'm a bit in awe of the extent of the publicity and the public reach of the project. As it developed here, I felt that it was a perfect fit for the goals and missions of WomenHeart.  

Marilyn, Suzie, and Tina: WomenHeart thanks you all for the beautiful gift of this program!

To learn more about getting involved in the HeartScarves program, click here. And please make a donation to support HeartScarves and other important WomenHeart programs!
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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) patient advocacy organization with thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, health care providers, advocates and consumers committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. WomenHeart supports, educates and advocates on behalf of the 42 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. Our programs are made possible by donations, grants and corporate partnerships.

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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a founding partner of The Heart Truth Red Dress campaign. The Heart Truth and Red Dress are trademarks of HHS.