A young Boise mom and Heart Walk regular learns about cardiac awareness the hard way

amaier@idahostatesman.comMay 10, 2014 

  • GO TO THE BOISE HEART WALK

    When: Saturday, May 31 (the weekend after Memorial Day)

    • 8 a.m. Registration

    • 9 a.m. Opening ceremonies

    • 10 a.m. Heart and stroke walk

    • 11 a.m. Awards

    Where: Julia Davis Park, 700 S. Capitol Blvd., Boise. The mile and 5k courses will stay on the Greenbelt.

    To register or find more information: boiseheartwalk.org

  • STAY HEALTHY TO REDUCE YOUR RISK

    Though some of the factors that contribute to heart disease are out of your control - such as family history or age - you can lower your risk. Many steps are aimed at keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.

    Clean up your eating habits

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends limiting salt or sodium in your diet, and eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol but high in fiber. That means lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

    Be aware of your weight

    The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to develop heart disease. Calculate your body mass index to determine whether your weight is in the healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9. Online calculators can tell you where you fall based on your height. Those who enjoy math can use this formula: Divide your weight in pounds by the square of your height in inches and multiply the result by 703.

    Exercise

    The surgeon general's recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (walking, dancing, housework) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (running, uphill climbing, competitive sports) each week for adults - and at least one hour of activity a day for children and teens.

    Don't smoke

    The chemicals in cigarettes damage blood cells and vessels. Women who are on birth control pills are at an especially high risk of heart disease if they smoke.

    Limit your alcohol intake

    Drinking too much can damage heart muscle and raise your blood pressure. Studies have shown that some moderate drinkers - women who have up to one glass a day and men who have up to two glasses a day - are actually less likely to develop heart disease than heavy drinkers or people who don't drink at all. But there are other health considerations to keep in mind before imbibing.

    The American Heart Association has a website - StartWalkingNow.org - that's loaded with information about walking and other strategies for heart-healthy living.

Angela Creason has participated in the Boise Heart Walk for half a decade - honoring her father, who had quadruple bypass surgery but lived to be 83, and several other family members who suffered from heart attacks.

But this year the 33-year-old will walk just four and a half months after sudden cardiac arrest and a stroke, and two and a half months after open-heart surgery to replace a leaking aortic valve. She'll be carrying new lessons - even after years of awareness about her own condition.

The American Heart Association's Heart Walks take place in more than 300 cities and raise money for research and outreach. Participants can set up webpages with a fundraising goal prior to the event and publicly track the donations.

Boise has hosted a Heart Walk for more than a decade, said director Courtney Frost. Participants can choose between a mile or 5k course. This year, for the first time, people who want to run will be able to start the course before the walkers. Also new: The routes will stay on the Greenbelt from Julia Davis Park rather than crossing the Downtown area.

The event is free - though donations are, of course, encouraged - and participants can register until walking starts the morning of May 31. Last year, about 2,000 people participated. The organizers have set a fundraising goal of $200,000 - about $27,000 more than last year's event.

But beyond the fundraising, the goal is education and awareness. "It really is our mission in action," Frost said.

Participants will be engaging in a heart-healthy activity - walking - and can get their blood pressure checked and learn about signs and symptoms of stroke or heart attack. Activity zones for kids will also stress the importance of staying active.

Creason will bring her own children - ages 6 and 8 - to the event.

A TERRIFYING REALITY CHECK

Creason was in her late teens when a regular doctor's visit turned up a possible heart murmur. Doctors identified a weakened valve, and Creason was told she might not be able to have children. She says now that she was young and scared, and didn't take the precautions she should have.

When she had her first son, she experienced high blood pressure and swelling. But after the birth of her second child, she started seeing more severe symptoms. She had waves of dizziness just sitting at her desk. After a couple of weeks, she decided to see a doctor, who found the leak in her aortic valve. Her doctor later determined that she had a bicuspid aortic valve, meaning it has two leaflets instead of the usual three - a congenital condition.

She started taking medication and visiting the clinic regularly. It seemed to help. In fact, shortly before her cardiac arrest, her doctor had said she would need to come in for check-ups only once a year.

She marvels when she looks back on the January day when her body's electrical system essentially shut down. Her husband, who like her had CPR training through his job at Idaho Power Co., jumped into action. When paramedics arrived, they used a device called a Lucas Chest Compression system. The technology likely saved her life, Creason said, because the small device could operate uninterrupted while paramedics navigated her staircase.

The terrifying event prompted Creason, who returned to work in mid-April, to explore more of her family's medical history. She learned about two young cousins in the Philippines who had also experienced cardiac arrest. And she got a chance to connect with others who have experienced something similar.

"It's a personal goal of mine to be a voice that people can relate to," she said.

RAISING AWARENESS

Cardiovascular disease in its many forms remains the most common killer in the United States and Idaho - accounting for one in four deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ruth Gibbons, a captain for Regence BlueShield of Idaho's Heart Walk team, lost her father and father-in-law to heart disease. She wants to teach her children that though you can't choose your genetics, a healthy lifestyle can help protect you.

Though Gibbons has experienced heart disease through her family, one thing still surprised her.

"I didn't know how susceptible women are to heart disease," she said - and the CDC estimates that neither do many other women.

Creason worries that busy women might not listen to their bodies and go see a doctor if something feels a little off. "When in doubt, it's better to have a medical bill and to know whether you're OK than to not have one and not know," Creason said.

Allison Maier worked as a reporter in Montana and New York before joining the Idaho Statesman, her hometown newspaper, as a copy editor.

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