WebMD talks to TV personality Star Jones about her heart disease and her work as a National Volunteer for the American Heart Association. Jones was diagnosed in March 2010 and underwent open heart surgery.
What do women need to know about heart disease?
Did you know that more women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined? Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and affects more than 42 million women in the US. Talk about a sisterhood. It’s not like I planned to be a heart sister. But Lord knows I didn’t do anything to avoid it. My genetic history screamed heart disease (I’m a 5th generation heart sister) and my lack of discipline and sedentary lifestyle (remember I used to weigh over 300 pounds!) exacerbated it. Thank God I made the decision to get my mind and body in shape (I lost over 150 pounds after weight loss surgery…and have kept it off through a real commitment to diet and exercise!) and began a laser-like commitment to heart health. You see, this particular sisterhood is made up of strong, courageous women who are not only the face of heart disease…they are the voice of compassion, comfort, and care.
How do you reach out to women through the American Heart Association?
For more than two years now, I’ve served as the National Volunteer for the American Heart Association (AHA). I’m thankful for the voice I have when it comes to fighting what I once thought was an old white man’s disease. During this time, I’ve seen, first hand, how passionate women involved in the Go Red For Women movement are about fighting their No. 1 killer. I’ve also experienced a zealous spirit of sisterhood among this group.
As with any inspiring group of women, they can move mountains when they harness their energy, passion, and encouragement for the greater good. The AHA’s Go Red For Women movement has done just that through a new peer-to-peer support program called the Go Red Heart Match. This program is made up of a community of female heart disease survivors who’ve experienced similar situations – from the shock of a diagnosis, to treatment and rehab, to recovery, and finally to survivorship. They can relate to one another’s fears, share their own courageous stories, offer around-the-clock encouragement, and truly be a voice of strength and survival.
I want women to know they don’t have to fight heart disease alone. I want women to know they have heart sisters – no matter where they live or what their diagnosis – who can be the voice of encouragement. And I want women to know they can find support through the Go Red Heart Match.
What was your rehab process like?
Six days after my open heart surgery, I walked out of the hospital and began a new journey – cardiac rehabilitation. I elected to do a full round of Cardiac Rehab and it was the second best decision of my life. The discipline necessary to strengthen your heart after open heart surgery is relentless and exhausting, but oh so worth it. Who cares that I was the youngest one in my rehab sessions? I arrived every day ready to conquer a new obstacle. Twenty-four sessions over 3 months and I got my paper graduation hat and celebrated by walking the 12 blocks home!
Cardiac rehab provided me with the medical care I needed, but just as important, it introduced me to a significant support group during my recovery process. So, not only do I encourage women fighting heart disease to seek support in their heart sisters, I encourage them to join – and complete – cardiac rehab. It gave me the confidence I needed to move forward as a heart disease survivor.