There has been so much to endure this year – a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in a century, deep economic stagnation leading millions to lose their jobs, school closures disrupting the educational progress and social development of young people, social unrest from racial tensions, and all during a contentious election year. So many families have suffered the loss of a loved one, including my own. As are result, our heart health and wellness are suffering – people with heart disease are at greater risk from the coronavirus, people experiencing symptoms of heart attack and stroke are avoiding needed medical care out of fear, we are only beginning to understand the long-term impact of COVID-19 on cardiovascular health and rates of depression of up. 2020 has pushed our limits. But. But, to quote Maya Angelou, still I rise. Still – we rise.
And last week, amidst two evenings of light, community and celebration, the rising and resilience of WomenHeart shined brilliantly.
On March 13th, I wrote an email to our community temporarily closing down our in-person events for the remainder of the month. Little did we know that we would remain virtual for months to come and subsequently develop new online programs, deliver our signature events and trainings virtually and convert our support networks to Zoom calls. On Wednesday, October 21st, we celebrated graduation for the trailblazing Class of 2020 – the first class of WomenHeart Champions to complete the Science & Leadership Symposium virtually and the most recent group of heart sisters who have responded to the call to support women across the country through their own heart journeys. While I was excited anticipating the evening’s Zoom celebration, I was surprised by the emotion and joy I felt in sharing the evening with our team, the faculty, the proud graduates and their families. It was one hour of love and community that refueled us and reminded us all that our work to improve the lives of women living with heart disease is more important than ever.
Since May, we had been looking forward to honoring our Wenger Award winners for their outstanding achievements in women’s heart health, and the very next night after the graduation, we were finally able to do just that. It was another evening of sheer pleasure in bringing together our entire community to take a pause and reflect on the passion and determination of WomenHeart staff, supporters, and Champions to continue providing support and services to women across the country. Dr. Nanette Wenger, the indomitable namesake of the Awards, who celebrated her 90th birthday this year, kicked off the event with words of encouragement. Our award winners shared remarks on their achievements highlighting innovation and dedication to moving the needle on women’s heart disease – across filmmaking, public policy, advocacy, education and support for patients. The voices of WomenHeart Champions were lifted up, including board member Kathy Webster, who celebrated the 50th anniversary of her first open heart surgery and spoke about the impact of WomenHeart of her life and healing. By the end of the evening, I was in awe of the strength, power and goodness of our WomenHeart community. I felt our collective psyche embracing our collective resilience. Indeed, still WomenHeart rises.