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Health Team

Myths hide women's risk of heart disease

Posted February 3, 2011 1:59 p.m. EST
Updated February 3, 2011 6:21 p.m. EST

— Two myths about heart disease keep many women unaware of their risk: First, they think that men are more at risk for heart disease and, second, that cancer is a bigger concern for women.

Heart disease, though, is the leading cause of death in women – more than all cancers combined.

Kaye LaVelle, 62, and her daughter, Jill Morin, 40, found out those truths the hard way.

Ten years ago, they were both busy, hardworking mothers willing to sacrifice everything for their families.

"I was just kind of ignoring myself and my own health," LaVelle said.

"I took better care of my car than I did of myself. I went and got oil checks, but I didn't have a doctor," Morin said.

LaVelle said she ignored unusual weakness and shortness of breath for a long time but eventually saw a doctor.

"When I go to the doctor's, he told me I was in congestive heart failure," she said.

She went on medications, cut back on her schedule and took better care of herself.

Then, eight years ago, with the whole family and grandchildren together at a beach house, Morin went into sudden cardiac arrest.

"She was on the floor, and there were people working on her," LaVelle said.

It took an hour for paramedics to get her heart beating, and afterwards, her life and ability to function still hung in the balance.

Waiting for her daughter to recover was "the most terrifying three or four days of my life," LaVelle said. Morin now has an implantable pacemaker and defibrillator.

Both women had a form of heart disease called cardiomyopathy, a condition that produces an enlarged and weakened heart muscle.

"What happened to us isn't necessarily lifestyle. It's more genetic, but we can help by changing our lifestyle," Morin said.

The two are sharing their story at events Friday with the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign. They have a simple message for other mothers.

"Take care of themselves first," Morin said. "So that they're here to take of themselves," LaVelle finished.