#29DaysofHeart: Shining a Light on Black Women’s Heart Health

Each February, Black History Month serves as a poignant reminder of the struggles and triumphs of African Americans throughout history. Black History Month celebrates the contributions Black figures have made to our country, beating the odds as they discovered, invented, advanced their field and fought inequality in every sense.

February is also American Heart Month, a time for us to focus on cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, women of color, especially Black women, are disproportionately affected by heart disease, with more than half of Black women who are 20 years old or above suffering from a heart condition. Black women are at increased risk of hypertension, pregnancy-related complications, and diabetes — all risk factors for heart disease.

Eight years ago, WomenHeart launched #29DaysofHeart, an annual month-long social media campaign in February to raise awareness about heart disease in Black women. In particular, the campaign lifts up the voices and stories of Black women to empower and educate women to take control of their heart health. So now, as this year’s campaign concludes,  it only feels apt to revisit the stories of three of our WomenHeart Champions who shared their truth in live interviews during this year’s campaign.

Meet Jarretta, a Heart Attack Survivor and Advocate

Jarretta Utley is a WomenHeart Champion in Tennessee and a survivor who successfully manages her heart conditions. But that wasn’t always the case. Jarretta first experienced hypertension in her early 20s, living with a poor diet that included a lot of processed foods and struggling to manage her weight.

At 35, Jarretta was home caring for her toddler when, suddenly, things took a turn for the worse. She felt intense chest pains, but unaware of the possibility of it being a cardiac event, Jarretta tried to brush it off. But soon, she was diagnosed with a completely blocked coronary artery.

Like many Black women, Jarretta had a combination of factors increasing her risk of heart disease. But it wasn’t until she had her daughter that she finally began caring for herself. Her heart attack was the catalyst, and Jarretta was diagnosed with atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease.

These days, Jarretta is a proud survivor and WomenHeart volunteer. For 12 years, she’s been teaching others, including her daughter, about the risks of heart disease, how to manage them, and how to identify a cardiac event. She’s learned about the importance of a healthy, balanced diet, and caring for herself before being able to care for others. She also educates about health inequities for women of color and encourages women living with or at risk of heart disease to seek support.

This Is Rolanda’s Heart Story

Rolanda Perkins’s story is a stark reminder that life can change at a moment’s notice. Like Jarretta, Rolanda was in her 30s when she experienced a heart attack. While planning multiple family events and juggling her demanding job, Rolanda found herself trying to ignore a persistent headache. Soon enough, she felt a sharp pain in her chest which she couldn’t dismiss. And at 39 years old, she was admitted to the hospital with a life-threatening heart attack.

Rolanda made it out of the hospital and began her journey to recovery. But she faced another unexpected symptom when her mental health took a hit. There is a link between heart disease and mental health, something many women don’t know. Thankfully, she eventually regained her confidence and began volunteering, sharing her story and educating women about heart disease. Today, she is a leader among her Heart Sisters, engaging her community and supporting other WomenHeart Champions.

Despite her fast-paced life, she had felt healthy and never considered the possibility of heart disease, let alone a heart attack. So it was easy to attribute her symptoms to stress and move on with her day. But today, she realizes everyone’s heart disease experience differs, and symptoms are not one-size-fits-all, so she’s made it a mission to share life-saving resources for others to identify heart events and find help on time.

Pamela’s Story is a Little Different

Pamela Thomas was diagnosed with congenital heart disease early on in her life. Despite her childhood diagnosis, she grew up playing sports and running track. Her parents were her biggest cheerleaders, making sure she was safe and got the care she needed but was never unnecessarily limited in what she could do.

She brought that strength and optimism into adulthood. Throughout her life, Pamela has gone through several life-altering diagnoses, many treatments, and five extensive surgeries. Thankfully, she relies on the ongoing support of loving parents, a tribe of loved ones and supportive colleagues. She has learned to manage her condition despite the ups and downs the journey has entailed.

Pamela first heard about WomenHeart during post-surgery cardiac rehab, and she has been an active volunteer ever since, sharing her experience living with heart disease and encouraging women to take control of cardiovascular health. She wants everyone she meets to “fall in love with their heart.”

At Womenheart, We Empower, Educate and Advocate for Women’s Heart Health

Whether by creating educational resources, amplifying the voices of those living with or at risk of heart disease, drawing attention to race and gender disparities in healthcare, or advocating for health equity, at WomenHeart, our priority is to provide support. Our community comprises women from all walks of life with a shared experience of heart disease. Each of our Champions has experienced a cardiac event that has served as a catalyst for her to seek information, make informed decisions, and share her findings with peers who will benefit from it.

Heart disease is the leading killer of women, surpassing all types of cancer combined. And unfortunately, not enough women know this reality or understand its implications. In February, we hope this campaign shines an extra needed light on the health needs of Black women, in particular.  Our Champions are in this effort with us, and each of their contributions has undoubtedly helped save and improve the lives of thousands of women — and for that, we are thankful.

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