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Living life with a whole heart

“I was in high school that day my mother went under the knife for open-heart surgery. I remember praying so hard for the Lord to keep my mother through the procedure.”

“I was in high school that day my mother went under the knife for open-heart surgery. I remember praying so hard for the Lord to keep my mother through the procedure. I knew she was not well, but it was only after the surgery when I saw the staples in her chest and tubes down her throat that I realized how close we had actually come to losing her. It was sobering, but God blessed her, and she is with us today. We are so grateful…”

 – Pastor Quinton Barlow, Faith Covenant Church

 Linda Chism

Nov. 18, 1998, was a day, pretty much like any other day in the life of Linda Chism, a registered nurse at The Regional Medical Center at Memphis. She was a 41-year-old medical professional working on her doctorate – ambitious, filled with vision, and seemingly a picture of health.

She had been given a clean bill of health after a thorough physical exam four weeks prior. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

“After arriving home from work, I began to feel sick, extremely sick to my stomach,” said Dr. Chism. “As the night wore on I got progressively worse. I was there at home with my son, Quinton, and one single symptom may have saved my life that night – I was vomiting violently, and there was just no relief from that sickness in my stomach. I knew something was very wrong. What, exactly, I had no idea. Emergency bypass surgery was necessary to save my life.”

Many younger and middle-aged women are less likely than men to get immediate treatment when having a heart attack, and they have a higher rate than men of in-hospital death from a heart attack. Those results are reported in a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association and conducted by the Watson Clinic of the Lakeland Florida Regional Medical Center. Both the delay in treatment and poorer survival outcomes are, in part, because fewer women experience the telltale symptoms of chest pains during a heart attack, researchers concluded.

Chism is one of the fortunate ones.

“Not only was I an RN, but my specialty was cardiology,” she said. “If I had no clue that my heart was failing, what about other women who don’t have the benefit of medical expertise? It was apparent that more accurate indicators of heart disease in women were needed.”

The absence of chest pain delays accurate diagnosis and immediate treatment in women, said Chism.

“Time is not our friend,” Chism said. “Most men experience acute, stabbing pain in the chest. Early detection results in decisive, effective treatment. They are three times more likely to survive a heart attack than women. We must be more diligent in guarding our hearts. Our lives literally depend on it.”

Fourteen years heart-healthy

Fourteen years ago, the old Linda Chism died, and a new one emerged. You might say that Chism is 14 years old in “healthy heart years.”

The experience changed not only her perspective of heart disease in women, but a sense of purpose and destiny inspired a dissertation lauded by Chism’s University of Memphis professors.

Chism wrote: “The relationship between knowledge and health outcomes is well established: the more knowledgeable an individual concerning risks, symptoms, and preventive measures the better…”


Lack of knowledge and the tools to develop heart-healthy lifestyles has elevated heart disease to the leading cause of death for American women. African-American women represent a disproportionate percentage of that number.

Chism administered a questionnaire to 500 African-American women, gathering some startling realities for her dissertation.

“One of the most significant truths pointed up the tremendous need for educational programs on prevention and what I call atypical risk identifiers of heart disease.”

Dr. Taslim Khattak, a local internist and geriatrics specialist, agrees that widespread education on heart disease is greatly needed among women. Equally important is teaching children healthy habits while they are still very young.

“Youngsters imitate what we do, and it’s up to us to insure that they are taught healthy habits from the very beginning,” said Dr. Khattak. “When they sit down to eat, a healthy table should be set before them. Women must be taught to shop healthy and to cook healthy.”

Prevention is better than cure, said Khattak.

“If we are to raise a healthier generation, it must begin with us. More fresh fruits and vegetables; less processed meats and fast food. Encourage youngsters to get involved in more physical activity. We have the power to offer the gift of good health to future generations.”

Women and heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women worldwide

Around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the U.S. Unfortunately, many women did not perceive themselves to be at risk for heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women of most racial/ethnic groups in the United States, including African Americans, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Hispanics, and whites.

Almost two-thirds of the women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease.

Heart disease risk factors

Nine out of 10 heart disease patients have at least one risk factor. These medical conditions and lifestyle choices include:
• High cholesterol high blood pressure
• Diabetes
• Cigarette smoking
• Overweight and obesity
• Poor diet
• Physical inactivity
• Alcohol use

Heart attack symptoms

Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

Shortness of breath. Often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.

Other symptoms. May include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.

If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, you should call 911 immediately.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention



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