“In some cases, there are some cultural factors, some genetic factors involved,” says Dr. Robert Hendel, professor of medicine and director of cardiac care at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. “But we have to ask ourselves, Is our message getting to this population?”
While research on women with heart disease is improving, Hendel and others suggest more targeted studies aimed at high-risk groups — and more messages targeted to minorities. “The awareness is just not there,” he adds. Women must understand “you can’t change who your parents are, but you can change some of the risk factors."
D’Agostino would add another at-risk group: young women who dismiss heart disease as a problem for their older sisters. But “it’s an ageless disease,” she says. “Anyone can have a heart attack. You can be your 30s and have a heart attack.”
Yaskary Reyes, 51, of Weston knows that all too well. Her mother died of a massive heart attack at 38, the aunt who helped raise her at 41. One cousin who lives in Puerto Rico had his first heart attack at 23.
Two years ago, she felt a slight pressure around her left shoulder and immediately phoned her cardiologist. After tests showed she had several arteries obstructed, she underwent open heart surgery. Reyes has become a stickler about her blood-pressure medication, doctors’ visits and EKGs. She doesn’t eat red meat, avoids fatty foods and exercises.
“I’ve changed my life,” says Reyes, an executive assistant, “because I know that by the grace of God I’m still here.
Like D’Agostino, she is intent on spreading the awareness gospel to women as a network coordinator for WomenHeart, a campaign of the National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease. She believes prodding women to take action is especially important because of the harried lives they lead.
“We wear so many hats and have so many responsibilities that when we feel the symptoms we tend to ignore them,” she adds. “We figure we‘ll get to that later. And sometimes there’s no later.”