- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Long after the Valentine's Day roses have withered and the chocolate-covered candy has disappeared, sistagirls, "You Got To Have Heart."
That's the timely heart-healthy tune a number of local and national health care advocates and volunteers are working to convey to women and their loved ones during February, which is National Heart Month.
"Did you know that if you combine the deaths from the three top cancers women get most, heart disease still tops them all?" asks Paula Upshaw, 46, of Laurel. "And did you know that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women?"
Mrs. Upshaw is "an 11-year heart attack survivor" and "a staunch advocate for women's heart health." Though permanently disabled, this wife and mother of three teenage boys frequently volunteers for local and national health initiatives.
"I'm trying not to have what happened to me happen to other women," said Mrs. Upshaw, who is an outreach worker for WomenHeart, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the St. Paul's Church health and resource ministry.
Appropriately, Valentine's Day marked the kickoff for a week of community events leading up to Sister to Sister's Women's Heart Day at the MCI Center this Friday. Last Friday also marked the final day of a week of glitzy fashion events in New York that were held in conjunction with the Red Dress Project, designed to heighten heart-health awareness for women.
Mrs. Upshaw is a participant in both campaigns.
Take advantage. Learn the symptoms and know your risk factors.
The Bethesda-based Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation, founded by Irene Pollin, is hosting free health screenings throughout the metropolitan area all week. Organizers are hoping to reach as many women as possible especially those who are uninsured or underserved.
"I was surprised when I learned that heart disease was the No. 1 killer of women, and I knew others were probably also in the dark," said Mrs. Pollin.
"I felt more needed to be done to educate women about the problem, and more importantly, I wanted to help them take action to overcome it. That's why I formed the foundation and created Women's Heart Day."
Mrs. Upshaw, like many women who suffer heart attacks, was initially misdiagnosed when she arrived at the emergency room experiencing chest pains and lightheadedness. She was young, she was in good health and she did not have any of the traditional risk factors. In fact, as a respiratory therapist for the Washington Hospital Center before her illness, she received regular checkups including cholesterol screening.
It wasn't until a third trip to the hospital a week later when she insisted on being admitted that her diagnostic tests were finally analyzed and lifesaving treatment was administered.
Still, she spent two months in the hospital recuperating after emergency bypass surgery.
As part of Fashion Week in New York, a coalition of public and private sponsors, including the American Heart Association, debuted the Heart Truth Campaign, which incorporates the Red Dress Project.
The centerpieces of the Red Dress Project are a red enamel pin and a striking poster of model Angela Lindvall wearing a strappy Donna Karan design. The latter bears the slogan, "Heart disease doesn't care what you wear."
In her public talks, Mrs. Upshaw encourages women to pay attention to changes in their bodies, and urges them to insist on being tested for symptoms and ask to see the test results and have them interpreted.
Virgie Harris-Bovelle, 67, a Northwest Washington psychotherapist, is also a volunteer with WomenHeart who will participate in this week's Women's Health Day fair. She has the same selfless sentiment when February and Valentine's Day roll around.
Mrs. Harris-Bovelle, who was also misdiagnosed when she had her heart attack at 48, carries the message that "it is our responsibility as women to learn how to take responsibility for ourselves and help the doctors help us."
She encourages women to be clear about their symptoms, ask the right questions and be more assertive with physicians. "Listen to your body and move on when your physician isn't listening to you."
Good advice, sistagirls, this month and every other because You Got to Have Heart. None of us wants to be left like the Tin Man singing the adopted "Holly Heart" theme song, "If I Only Had a Heart."
For more information on the Sister-to-Sister screenings and Women's Heart Day fair, log on to www.sistertosister.org or call 888/MYHEART. For more information about the Red Dress Project log on to www.womenheart.org.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide