American Heart Program Changes and Saves Lives

Thirty-five-year old Angela Wheeler knew all about stress. While her husband survived both pancreatic cancer and a heart transplant, she developed a serious weight problem, lacked exercise, and was a mother of two. Things needed to change.

Enter Connie Hara. She directs the Go Red for Women heart health program for the South Sound division of the American Heart Association. Based on the 12-week Better U health makeover plan—outlined on the Go Red for Women website—she created a new program by the same name, accessing local health care organizations. She wanted to reach women at risk.

Many women from Pierce and Thurston counties applied for the Better U program. Wheeler was one of only 13 selected between the ages 30-60.

Hara explained the selection process: “They had to fill out a five-page application and tell us what they ate, how often they exercised, what their goals were, and what they wanted to get out of it. I think they came into this thinking, ‘Sure, that sounds like fun. Yeah, I could make some changes.’ But what we really found out is that all of us are at risk. Among women, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer, causing one in three deaths,” said Hara.

Expertise, help and sponsorship came from Franciscan Health System’s St. Joseph Heart and Vascular Center, the American Heart Association, and Cascade Eye & Skin Centers, in the form of cardiac specialists, nutrition counselors, lifestyle coaches, fitness trainers and many others who could provide an extra boost of education and inspiration. It all began with initial health screening.

“Eleven of these ladies were identified as having major medical concerns,” Hara said. “They needed medication. They needed to see a doctor very quickly.”

Meeting weekly, the women learned, made progress, and had fun. “Embellish Salon did makeovers on every single lady on National Wear Red Day,” Hara added. “By the time they left there, they looked like vibrant, refreshed women.” After seven months, those same 11 participants completed the program, which culminated with the Tacoma Go Red for Women luncheon on April 27, 2012.

“Most of us were just out there doing whatever we wanted, eating whatever we wanted and not having a care,” Wheeler said. Now much healthier and 50 pounds lighter, she said, “It was all so positive for me, knowing that I wasn’t alone.”

But other at-risk women are alone. Hara dreams of helping them too.

CANDACE BROWN

For more information: goredforwomen.org