TROY, Mich. – The Friday of February is National Wear Red Day -- an annual effort from the American Heart Association to raise awareness of heart risks.
Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women. It’s estimated that one in three women are living with some form of cardiovascular disease.
Troy-resident Kristy Sidlar was young and athletic when her first symptom hit.
“Many people that have the condition that I have, their first sign or symptom is sudden death,” Sidlar said. “I was a very fit, very active young woman teaching aerobics when I was 26-years old. I literally passed out in front of my class.”
She said that people told her it was probably dehydration or low blood sugar.
When it happened again, she went to a doctor, was given medication and was told to listen to her body when it came to exercising.
On her 31st birthday, she set out on a bike ride as a part of training for an upcoming triathlon.
“I felt my heart rate going into this abnormal rhythm and it was annoying at first and then it got really bad,” Sidlar said. “To the point where I was actually laying on the side of the road by myself. Nobody around. This was back when I didn’t have a cell phone with me.”
She said she laid on the ground for 45 minutes, fading in and out of consciousness, until another cyclist found her and called 911.
Paramedics shocked her heart back into a normal rhythm. It was beating at more than five times the normal heart rate.
“I have arrhythmogenic right ventricle cardiomyopathy, which essentially means the right side of my heart -- instead of looking like a healthy heart muscle -- basically looks like a sponge,” Sidlar said. “The more this disease progresses, the more enlarged my heart becomes, which allows my heart to not beat effectively.”
Sidlar now has an implanted defibrillator. She’s not able to exercise the way she once did, but she has a zest for life, a love of travel and a sense of adventure.
“I’ve been in heart failure for probably about five years now,” Sidlar said. “Unfortunately, the disease I have is progressive. So I will ultimately be on the heart transplant list.”
Sidlar wants women of all ages to understand that heart disease is their problem too.
“It’s such a passion of mine to be able to help women understand that this isn’t a men’s disease. We have different symptoms, we have to take care of ourselves differently,” Sidlar said. “Know your family history and know your numbers -- those two things are critical.”
That includes your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index. She also encourages everyone to learn hands-old CPR
If you have any symptoms of heart disease, seek help.
“We really need to be advocates for ourselves and for our bodies to make sure if we know something’s wrong, that we’re pressing for it,” Sidlar said.
While many women with heart problems do experience chest pain or discomfort, there are also many who do not.
Some other red flags are shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain, dizziness or fainting and unusual fatigue.
If you are suffering any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them. Seek help.
The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement encourages people to take action throughout February by wearing red on Feb. 5, donating to the American Heart Association and using the #WearRedDay, #HeartMonth and #GoRedForWomen on social media.