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A Healthy Heart is a Happy Heart

Alissa, Daughter Aris, and husband Neil
Hello Mama! February is the month of LOVE. We often talk about our hearts when it comes to romance, but what about our heart when it comes to health? Last year at this time, I had experienced a few heart episodes that led to me to driving myself to the hospital (PSA: I don’t recommend driving yourself to the hospital, but I am glad that I didn’t ignore the warning signs!) For me, it started with what felt like an electrical shock that woke me up in the middle of the night. Kind of felt like when I had a hernia surgery years ago and during my healing, my nerves would “shock” me as they healed. I then started to experience heart palpitations and other symptoms that just didn’t “feel right.” After a workout one day, the chest tightness caused me to go straight to the hospital and check myself in for tests. Five hours later, after an EKG and several tests, they released me. I was scheduled for a multitude of follow up exams including wearing a heart monitor overnight, stress test, calcium score test and imaging of my heart. After about a month of tests, the results came back that my heart was healthy and my heart palpitations were due to stress.

For me, it was stress-related and I was able to make some positive lifestyle changes to help me manage my stress and to take better care of my heart health. But, I’m so glad that I didn’t ignore the warning signs. I have attended Go Red for Women for years and thanks to my friend, Alissa Carlson Schwartz and her advocacy with American Heart Association, I took immediate action to put my heart health first. You may know Alissa Carlson as Chief Meteorologist at KGET-TV 17. Alissa has been very vocal about heart disease, so I wanted to reach out to her to ask some questions about her “heart story” that has inspired so many others. Here’s our conversation:

Janelle and an overnight heart monitor.
Your story has inspired so many people in Bakersfield and beyond! You have shared how your sweet daughter, Aris “saved” your broken heart. What do you hope other women will learn from your story to take care of their heart health? 

Alissa: Thank you! I'm grateful that I've had the opportunity to share my story on a bigger platform such as KGET news and by being Mrs. California. So many women have also felt it was a wake-up call after hearing that age does not discriminate when it comes to heart disease. I want women to realize that you may not be overweight and out of shape, but you can still have heart issues. The good news is, heart disease is 80% preventable. And that's why getting a yearly checkup that includes blood work is so important. Know your numbers: cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar level. It could help save your life! 

What was the initial feeling or symptom you had that caused you to get a heart check up?

Alissa: I was filling in on the morning newscast and within a matter of 5 minutes became ill at the beginning of the show. At first, I thought I had the flu because I threw up in the weather center. Afterward, I was sweating, dizzy, and kind of felt like my head was hurting. A producer drove me home and I got into bed. The interesting thing was that I didn't throw up again, but I felt "off" and that something wasn't right. I went to my doctor and he asked if I had a heart condition. I said, no, not me; I'm fit and healthy! Turns out he ran some tests, then I went to the hospital for more tests, and I was diagnosed with a leaky heart valve. After being diagnosed with a leaky heart valve, I went on to reduce my cholesterol and get in shape. I got married, then pregnant with no complications, and went on to deliver a healthy baby girl, Aris.

About ten months after having Aris, I was planning her first birthday party and was under a lot of stress balancing work and family, too. I went to see my cardiologist because I thought I was having chest pains. After doing an echocardiogram, the results were shocking! My doctor told me that my heart valve was actually looking better. He said the stem cells from Aris had helped to repair the valve when she was in the womb! When a mother is pregnant, the stem cells from the baby repair any organ that is damaged in the mother's body. So what was the chest pain that even kept me up at night? It was likely a strained muscle from working out at the gym!

What do you hope Aris will someday learn from your advocacy for American Heart Association? 

Alissa: Aris is only 3, but she's already been so involved in the American Heart Association! Last year, she walked in the Go Red Fashion show! She regularly attends heart-related AHA events with me and knows about the cause. I think that teaching her about heart health at a young age will be a take-away for her for the rest of her life. She is learning proper nutrition at home but that we can still enjoy treats in moderation. She's also already living an active lifestyle. She and I work out at home together! She knows mommy has exercise time and asks when we are going to work out. We have converted a room in our house to an at-home gym/playroom. So, she sees mommy and daddy working out and she either plays with her toys or tries to join in! 

What are things women can do right now to take care of their hearts so that they can care for those they love?

Alissa: Prevention is key! Get a checkup and manage your blood pressure, control your cholesterol, and reduce your blood sugar. Get active and reduce stress! Lose weight. When you shed extra fat and pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.  So Mama, as you spend this month sharing your love with others, don’t forget to take time to check in on your heart health. There are several “Heart Check Up” programs at a hospital or healthcare center near you.

To learn more, visit: www.heart.org/kerncounty. And, I hope you will join Alissa, me, and hundreds of women in Kern County for the annual Go Red for Women on Friday, March 6. It’s a great day of networking, education and inspiration.

How do you take care of your heart health? Join the conversation! Use #hellohappymama and #healthyhappyheart to share you heart story.

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Tags: Featured Story, Health

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