Seven hours after Brenda Harrison’s daughter Amber was born in 1986, Harrison received news that would break the heart of any loving mother.
Amber was born with a congenital heart defect. Her heart was backward.
“My heart fell to the floor,” Harrison said.
Amber underwent her first surgery at 3 weeks old and didn’t leave the hospital until she was 3 months old. She had two open-heart surgeries: one at 10 and another at 14. But the surgeries were just Band-aids, Harrison said.
“For 18 years I feared Amber’s death,” Harrison said. “I was protective, but I didn’t want to cripple her. My advice to her was to always do the best she could.”
Her fear became reality on March 15, 2004. Amber needed a heart transplant, but during Amber’s childhood, doctors told Harrison it wasn’t an option. A few months before Amber died, Harrison said, doctors told her she would be a candidate for a heart transplant.
“There have been so many advances in treatment over the years, but there is still more that needs to be done,” she said.
Now, Harrison, a school nurse and personal trainer, preaches the importance of valuing health. While Amber had no say in her condition, Harrison said people of all ages tend to take good health for granted.
“If you’ve been blessed with good health, a good heart, take care of it,” she said.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, according to the American Heart Association. It’s more fatal than all types of cancer, the American Heart Association reports.
“Since 1984, more women than men have died from heart disease,” said Gina Smith, regional director of the American Heart Association. “And the gap between survival for men and women continues to widen.”
The Go Red movement by the American Heart Association is aimed at shrinking that gap by bringing awareness to women’s heart health and raising research funds. The movement is in its 10th year. Today has been tabbed National Wear Red Day to encourage awareness by wearing red.
It’s working, Smith said. She said research shows 627,000 women have been saved from heart disease in the past decade and 330 fewer women are dying each day.
“We have seen changes,” she said. “Of the women that have gotten involved in the movement, nearly 90 percent have made behavior changes. They are being active, eating better, losing weight.”
But still the statistics are alarming. According to the American Heart Association, 43 million women in the United States are affected by heart disease, 90 percent of women have more than one risk factor for heart disease and heart disease is the cause of one in every three deaths in American women annually.
“We aren’t getting there soon enough,” Smith said. “Women are dying, and we, as women, don’t seem to be paying enough attention to it.”
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.
Symptoms of heart attacks in women:
Source: American Heart Association