Women's Health

Even fit women have heart disease

Dianne Kane-McGunigle and Liz Tatham

Dianne Kane-McGunigle and Liz Tatham

Have you heard of the American Heart Association’s educational outreach program Go Red for Women™?

Heart disease is still the number one killer among women and men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Family history, along with dietary intake and physical activity levels impact risk factors.

Friday is Go Red for Women day – and you can show your support by wearing something red.  

While researching this topic, I was intrigued by two spokeswomen from Go Red because they were already doing all the right things…or so they thought.

Liz Tatham – age 43

Tatham is an active mother of four kids in a Kansas City suburb who coached her son’s running club.  She would run 15 miles a week, until suddenly, she couldn’t.  Since it was September, she blamed allergies.  Gradually, her coughing increased and breathing became more of a struggle, even walking up stairs.  She found herself so fatigued that she couldn’t get through the day without a nap. Everything she ate caused her to burp.  Her primary care doctor thought it was bronchitis, then gallbladder issues, and finally after a month she saw a cardiologist.

“If my husband or kids had these symptoms, I’d take them to the ER,” Tatham said.  During an echo cardiogram, the technician explained she has a bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), and it should be tricuspid.  BAV is a congenital malformation.  Heart valves are responsible for blood flow between chambers of the heart, in one direction.

Tatham called a neighbor, who is a physician.  Another friend recommended she see a specialist at the Cleveland Clinic for this procedure.  Within two months of the initial consult, she had her valve repaired.  She was grateful for the time to celebrate birthdays and holidays with her family – not certain she’d be around for more. 

Women’s Intuition

After the surgery, Tatham said she rests regularly and makes herself more of a priority.  She was candid about coming to terms with the scar on her chest.  Her son caught her staring at it in the mirror and said, “Mom, I think your scar is cool.”  Her friends call it her courage scar and she has learned the art of tying scarves and modifying her wardrobe to keep it hidden, not out of shame, but to keep others from staring.

“Trust your intuition," Tatham said. "You know when something isn’t right; heart disease doesn’t mean you have time to wait to get it checked.”

Dianne Kane-McGunigle – age 53

Dianne Kane-McGunigle is has been a fitness instructor and personal trainer for 22 years in the suburbs of Boson.  Kane-McGunigle has devoted her whole life to being healthy and keeping people around her healthy. She has run 17 marathons and was always “picture perfect “at her regular doctors’ visits.  

Thinking a Body Pump Certification would be a great addition to her professional capabilities, she dismissed her discomfort afterwards as soreness.  She woke up nauseous and felt discomfort in her chest.  She told her husband she was going back to bed.  In the next moment, she was lying on the floor clutching her chest.  Her husband, a police officer and avid runner, wasted no time getting her to the hospital.  Doctors initially thought her pain was caused by over- exertion or an anxiety attack.  But, Kane-McGunigle knew something was really wrong.

Widow Maker

Further tests revealed that Kane-McGunigle was having, what is referred to as the “widow maker," when an artery is abruptly and completely blocked.  It is often responsible for sudden death. She was rushed to another hospital for the stent that saved her life.

Kane-McGunigle did not know, until after her heart attack that heart disease ran rampant in her family.  Both grandfathers and three uncles died from massive heart attacks; her mother had one at the same age and down played it.  It has become her mission to let everyone around her know that you have to take care of your health first.   

“Heart disease is nothing to be embarrassed about,” she added.

Changes in her eating habits

Dianne thought she ate “right,” but soon learned from the cardiac dietitian that more improvement was needed to reduce her cholesterol down.  She does not have butter or ice cream in her house, and she does not eat egg yolks.  She does eat fresh fish, chicken and steamed veggies.  

When others question her seemingly “strict” eating habits, she quips, “Do you know what a heart attack feels like?  Because I do.”

Coincidentally, Friday is Kane-McGunigle's birthday – Happy Birthday!