This year I am serving as a national spokeswoman for Go Red for Women, and in that role I was asked to contribute an article to the Huffington Post. As I thought about what I wanted women — and everyone really — to know about heart disease, I landed on what is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all: that women are still considered less at risk for heart disease. That by being a women, we don’t “fit the profile.” I want women to know that we all fit the profile.
Three and a half years ago I was in a hospital room, admitted after several fruitless hours in the emergency room, where they could not diagnose the source of the stabbing pain in my back, the ache in my arms, the cold sweat, and the choking sense of dread and foreboding pinning me to the bed.
An EKG was normal. Ultrasound, normal. CT scan, normal. X-ray, normal. The only sign of trouble was elevated troponin levels (an enzyme secreted when your heart is in distress) on my blood test.
The first cardiologist I saw in that hospital room looked at my fit, 37-year-old runner’s body on the bed and said “I don’t think your heart’s involved with this,” despite my third recitation of my symptoms, premature birth of my son due to HELLP syndrome, family history of high cholesterol, and my father’s multiple angioplasties in his early 40s.
“I don’t think your heart’s involved with this,” he said. “You don’t fit the profile.”
I know what he meant. I was 37. A distance runner. Normal weight. Not diabetic. Nonsmoker. No chest pain.
But most importantly, a woman.