Stephanie Arnold was an athlete. She was a former competitive ice skater, climbed Mount Rainier and had been an active distance runner for some time. As a working single mom, Arnold had always encouraged her family to stay active and eat well. On July 15, 2012, Arnold and two pals had just crossed the finish line of the See Jane Run half-marathon with a personal best record when she collapsed. At age 44, she had gone into cardiac arrest.
Arnold received continuous CPR for 30 minutes until she was transported to Harborview and spent three days in a coma while her body was kept at a chilled 91 degrees. Arnold was lucky. She woke up. But not every woman does.
According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. In 2009, 292,188 women died of heart disease. That’s 1 in every 4 female deaths. And yet only 54 percent of women recognize that heart disease is their number-one killer. While Arnold’s heart attack might seem like an exceptional case, it isn’t — 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. The American Heart Association is trying to spread awareness about heart disease to save thousands of lives every year. One of its main objectives is to tell women that symptoms can be subtle, but serious.
Fonda Oliver felt great. She was in the best shape of her life. She’d completed nine marathons in a three-year period, plus a number of half-marathons, and she was prepping for a fitness competition. On March 13, 2011, after a run with her brother, Oliver’s shoulder started to ache. Chalking it up to her weight-lifting regime, Oliver ignored the sign. The next day her shoulder was still bothering her, and her breath was raspy, as if she couldn’t quite catch it. But she powered through the pain. The next day, after she climbed the four flights of stairs to her office at Franciscan Health, she was out breath and sweaty. One of the nurses Oliver works with knew this wasn’t normal for a fit 43-year-old woman. She called the medics.
“No matter how young you are, no matter how fit you are, no matter how healthy you are, you need to know the signs,” cautions Oliver. Oliver was completely unaware of the signs before her heart attack and until the last six months, Go Red wasn’t on her radar. Oliver had done everything right, “why would she have been the one to have a heart attack?” echoed through her mind constantly.
“As women we think we can handle it and we can do it all,” Oliver says, and Arnold is in agreement.
“You can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself and as women we feel this pressure to take care of everyone else and put ourselves last. We have to stop and remember the effects if something happened to us and we didn’t survive it. Luckily we did,” Arnold says.
Heart disease is often thought of as a men’s disease. But about the same number of men and women die of it in the U.S. Francesca Minas, the American Heart Association’s director of communication and marketing, stressed the importance of calling 9-1-1 when symptoms arise. She says women often hesitate to do so, and every minute that passes without medical attention can be more dangerous.
Since their experiences with heart disease, Arnold and Oliver have joined with the American Heart Association and the Go Red campaign to raise awareness and funds for heart disease and stroke in women. But it didn’t happen suddenly for Oliver.
“To tell you the truth, I spent 2½ years really angry and I didn’t want anything to do with any of it, but then talking to Connie Hara at the American Heart Association, she made me look at things very differently,” says Oliver.
Oliver and her doctors believe her heart attack stemmed from chronic stress, a plight that tends to run in her family and now Oliver uses her knowledge to help the people in her life keep physically and mentally healthy.
“My dad carries a lot of stress also, and I’ve gotten him and my mom to take meditation classes. We’re all doing yoga. I’m trying to bring friends and family in on keeping our stress under control,” says Oliver, who is now a frequent hot yoga attendee.
During her time in the hospital, Arnold’s doctors discovered it had been a heart defect that caused her sudden cardiac arrest. Once on the road to recovery, Arnold used her role as the safety and security manager at U.S. Oil & Refining Co. to make changes in her workplace.
“It was really important for me to start a wellness program at work. We work shifts and long hours and have a lot of overweight people and unhealthy habits. It was important for others to know it’s about a healthy lifestyle. I set challenges and wanted everyone to set small goals. One small, minor change leads to huge differences,” says Arnold. “Just getting outside for five minutes here and there and walking. Find something you like and just move. That, and heart education. Learn CPR. It’s easy. Fire departments have free classes, and you can get them online. You just don’t know when you’ll need to know it.”
For Oliver and Arnold, red isn’t an accent color; it’s a declaration. Because they’re survivors, and the world needs more of them.
Learn more about the Go Red campaign.
2015 South Sound Go Red for Women Luncheon
The 2015 Go Red for Women Luncheon will be held at the Museum of Glass on April 28. The passionate call-to-arms brings together more than 300 of the South Sound’s most prominent female leaders in the corporate, medical, educational and social community and helps raise funds and bring awareness to the issues of heart disease and stroke in women.
What’s the difference?
Sudden Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack
Sudden Cardiac Arrest:
An electrical problem
Occurs when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly.
A circulation problem
Occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked.
2015 Dinner with Heart
The 2015 Dinner with Heart is on Friday, June 5 at Kelley Farm in Bonney Lake. Tickets to the fresh farm dinner are $250