The American Heart Association of Southern New England (AHA) is pleased to introduce the Heart2Heart Storytellers Class of 2020. The Heart2Heart Storytellers feature the stories of several local women across Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, who have experienced heart disease and stroke, and are courageously sharing their journey to help other women.
Each of these inspiring women represent the Go Red for Women campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the leading causes of death in women – heart attack and stroke – and support the annual Southern New England Go Red for Women Luncheon. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI), luncheon and the Heart2Heart Storyteller campaign sponsor, honors the generous and powerful act of these women by making a $25,000 contribution to the luncheon in the name of the Heart2Heart survivors. During the luncheon this important campaign message is shared through an impactful video, highlighting the importance of spreading awareness to save more lives. We thank each one of these brave women, who have stepped forward and united to be a relentless force towards a world of longer, healthier lives.
Carissa Bram & her daughter Abby
Providence, RI; Caretaker of Child with Congenital Heart Defect
Carissa Bram’s daughter, Abby, was diagnosed with Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), affecting the normal blood flow through the heart during her second trimester. As the baby develops during pregnancy, the left side of the heart does not form correctly. As soon as Abby was born on October 7th, 2017, she had open heart surgery at 3 days old. At three months old, she then suffered a right Middle cerebral artery (MCA) stroke. Little Abby had a second open heart surgery, and is expected to have a third in the next year. Carissa is inspired by her daughter’s strength, humor and sweet personality. Her message to other women and caregivers of children with a Congenital Heart Defect is strength, courage and support.
Smithfield, RI; Heart Survivor
In 2015, Yvonne woke up with difficulty breathing. Knowing something wasn’t right, she turned to her daughter for fresh air and an aspirin. As a nurse, Yvonne could sense the symptoms and called 9-1-1. Upon arriving in the emergency room, vitals showed that Yvonne was having a heart attack, with a 99% blocked left anterior descending (LAD), also known as the widow maker. Yvonne was rushed to receive a stent and recovered because of her knowledge to quickly recognize the warning symptoms. Yvonne’s key advice to women is to understand the signs, which display differently in men than women. Her message to other women is: “We are the primary caregivers of others but let us not forget to care for ourselves. I have a motto that I tell other women. It is better to go seek medical attention about symptoms than to not go and be wrong and wish you had gone.”
Westerly, RI; Heart Survivor
For Mary, a history of heart disease in her family is very prominent with the men. Shortly before her 39th birthday, Mary began feeling chest pains and fatigue. She dismissed these symptoms, doubting that she, as a woman, could be at risk for a heart attack. After being urged by her husband to head to the emergency room, doctors decided Mary needed a cardio catheter to investigate the blood flow in her arteries. During the procedure, a blockage was discovered sending Mary immediately to a nearby hospital to have an angioplasty and stent inserted. Mary works hard in the community to advocate and educate other women to not ignore the signs, and that heart disease is not an “old man disease” and can affect women of any age.
Foxboro, MA; Stroke Survivor
In October 2019, Caroline’s life forever changed. An otherwise normal morning turned terrifying, when I started exhibiting the signs of a stroke. Within an hour, Caroline was diagnosed at Norwood Hospital. Three months and many tests later, doctors continue to search for the root of the problem. Caroline is thankful that her husband recognized the signs of stroke and responded quickly to get her the care she needed. Caroline’s message is that everyone, regardless of age and health, should know the signs of a stroke.
Stephanie O. Preston
Providence, RI; Heart Survivor
During a typical day, Stephanie went for her usual run before work. Afterwards, she felt unusually light-headed but quickly dismissed it until she began to feel dizzy at her desk later in the morning. Stephanie’s colleague urged her to go to the wellness center, and she felt her heart fluttering. An EKG showed that her heart was pumping at 300 beats per minute, when normal is 60-80 beats per minute. Stephanie received a pacemaker to help regulate her heart, and thanks her coworker for recognizing the signs of a heart attack. Stephanie’s message to other women is to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart disease, and that self-care isn’t selfish.
North Kingstown, RI; Stroke Survivor
After a day of fun at an amusement park during her children’s February vacation in Florida, Brooke started to exhibit signs of a stroke. She quickly dismissed the momentary feeling of disorientation as a long day of rollercoasters. A week later, Brooke joined her husband and boys at a restaurant, and as she approached the table her family noticed that something wasn’t right. After her sister in law urged her to go to the emergency room, she learned she had a dissected coronary artery. The next day Brooke suffered from a massive stroke. Brooke attributes the quick thinking of her family for saving her life. Her mission is to educate one and all about the symptoms of stroke and the importance of acting F.A.S.T. Brooke’s message to women is that stroke can affect anyone, even the “young and healthy.”
West Warwick, RI; Heart Survivor
During a usual 4th of July weekend, Diane Dougherty was hosting a friend and woke up with what she thought was indigestion from the Mexican food she had for dinner. After nothing seemed to help the symptoms she was feeling, her husband urged her to go to the local ER. Little did Diane realize that the symptoms she was feeling were the signs of a heart attack. Diane’s message is that this can happen to anyone, at any time, regardless of age, family history or gender. She encourages women to take care of themselves and manage their blood pressure.