Carmen Perez and Katy Attebery

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. The problem is, women have different symptoms then men — so they often don’t realize they’re having a heart attack. The Queen of Hearts Foundation is co-hosting a women’s wellness seminar in Atlanta June 2 and 3 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Atlanta Perimeter At Ravinia – (Address is: 4355 Ashford Dunwoody Rd NE, Atlanta – (888) 444-0401)

If you’re in Atlanta, the cost is only $10 — and it could save your life.

Queen of Hearts co-founders, Katy Atterbery and Carmen Perez, talked to Disruptive Women’s Wendy Grossman.

DW: Did you know each other before you started the foundation?

KA: We met while volunteering on a project regarding women and heart here in Atlanta in 2004. We formed the foundation in May 2005, and got our 501C3 status in July 2008. Carmen is the daughter of a man who has had open-heart surgery. And I, of course, am a multiple heart attack survivor.

DW: I read that you had several heart attacks in a week.

K.A.: I had three heart attacks in a five-day period.

DW: And you didn’t know you were having a heart attack?

K.A.: I had no idea. I had symptoms for six to eight months and ignored them. I was busy doing other things. I had a burning sensation in the pit of my stomach, a pain in the side of my neck, and a pain in the shoulder blade. Women symptomize differently than men (visit qohf.org and click on symptoms).

I never had a pain in my chest; I never had a numb left arm. I felt lousy, my skin tone was gray, I saw dots in front of my eyes. When I had the first heart attack, on Nov. 13, 1997 (a week after my 54th birthday) I was misdiagnosed as having an anxiety attack in the ER and they sent me home.

DW: Wow.

KA: I drove myself — which was a really stupid thing to do — but I didn’t know what was wrong. The second heart attack I had while co-chairing a fundraiser at my son’s school that Sunday night (Nov. 16.)

I wouldn’t let my husband take me back to the hospital because they told me nothing was wrong. I saw my internist that Monday who told me that I was over 50 and probably had acid reflux. He gave me a prescription for an upper GI series and said he’d call in a couple days. That night, I suffered a major myocardial infarction — which is a heart attack. I was throwing up and in excruciating pain.

My husband carried me back to the ER. Our son, Christopher, was a senior in high school and he had the flu. He was sick in bed and my husband — who traveled for business every week, by God’s gift was home that Monday. If he hadn’t been home, my son would have come upstairs that morning and found me dead. Because I never would have got to a phone, and he never would have heard a cry for help.

At the hospital, I lost consciousness and lay for over four hours with them insisting it was my gallbladder, before they called a cardiologist.

It wasn’t until the cardiologist did the cardiac blood enzyme test they knew I had a heart attack. (That is a blood test that detects the presents of certain enzymes your heart produces when under attack.) I was unconscious. They did a heart catheterization and a angioplasty and put a stent in my lower and anterior descending artery. The interesting thing is, 11 years ago when this happened, stents were brand new. So I have a surgical steel coil that is now embedded in the wall of my artery.

DW: Wow.

KA: But 11 ½ years ago, they didn’t know the lifespan of the stent, the efficacy of the steint –whether your heart was going to reject it or not. It was brand new. I spent the next four days in cardiac intensive care and lived to tell the story. Most women over the age of 50 that have heart attacks don’t live to talk about them.

If I had been a man 40 years of age, they would have admitted me without question. They would have found the blockage, they would have put in a stent, and 24 hours later I would have gone home. And instead, five days later, I was almost dead.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has done a remarkable job in marketing breast cancer, about 38,000 women died last year from breast cancer — an estimated 600,000 women died of heart attacks.

DW: Women’s heart health is big issue.

KA: It’s the number one killer of women in this country. Number one.

DW: Because so many women don’t know it’s happening.

KA: What you hear about and what you see about are risk factors. Blood pressure levels, good cholesterol, bad cholesterol. If you have a heart attack and your lying on the floor and you don’t know what’s wrong with you, it doesn’t matter if you have risk factors or not. If you don’t know what your symptoms are, you’re dead.

DW: So Carmen have you had heart issues? Or just your dad?

CP: Just my father. What Katy and I are doing is ensuring that I never have one. My father had gone through this episode — which had been the longest day of all of our lives. My father had a healthy heart, his was stress-induced. He had a quadruple bypass. My sisters and I are living a heart healthier lifestyle.

DW: So what would be a heart healthier lifestyle?

CP: Eating right, exercising, monitoring my lifestyle choices and habits.

DW: Like what?

CP: Not smoking. Watching my cocktail intake.

KA: She watches her cocktail intake from her glass to her mouth — just kidding.

DW: We are red wine drinkers.

KA: An occasional Cosmo doesn’t hurt.

DW: How else are you changing your diet?

CP: Less red meat, more vegetables, more fruits, tons of water.

KA: And eliminating fried foods.

DW: But I love fried foods. Everything’s better fried.

CP: A grilled chicken salad is just as good as that fried one. If you can get your body in tune, in a healthy place — if you treat yourself once in a while to that fried it won’t hurt you. If you feel you deserve a treat on occasion, you can treat yourself and the ramifications won’t be so overwhelming later.

KA: The whole purpose of the Queen of Hearts foundation is to develop awareness, education and information regarding women and their heart health.

DW: How are you doing that?

KA: You can go to our website, www.qohf.org. There is a community forum on the web site where women can come online and talk to other women about their experiences and their heart health. We are not a medical web site, we are a website that provides information that women can understand. We’re not doctors.

CP: In addition to our own website, we’re participating in a lot of online media and social networking. We have a Facebook page, we’re on Linkedin, and we’ve just begun to Twitter. The twittering component, I’m going to post our forum topics into twitter to drive the conversation and get feedback from the community. Our main focus in spreading awareness and information — putting the information out there to people who would not check out WebMD.com, or maybe don’t see their internal medicine doctor. Younger women, who believe a heart attack isn’t something they need to consider, get their eyes checked, they see their ob/gyn annually, they get their teeth cleaned — but they don’t get overall body physicals. If we can get them to know their symptoms, it could potentially drive them to an earlier diagnosis.

KA: It’s also important to understand the history of your heart.

DW: How so?

KA: For example, my grandfather dropped dead at 52, my uncle at 47, and my dad died after 12 years of heart attacks and stroke My internist said, ‘You don’t have anything to worry about — that’s the male side of the family.’ I’m not going to inherit a bad heart from my dog. A heart is a heart is a heart. It’s your heart history.

We are focused and passionate about helping women save their lives.

CP: All women.

KA: Heart attacks are non-discriminatory. We really believe we can do for women and hearts, what the Susan G. Komen Foundation does for breast cancer. We’re not about raising money for research. It’s about awareness. It’s not about me, it’s not about Carmen, it’s about you.

Knowledge is power. My husband didn’t know that a cardiac blood enzyme test exhisted. This whole thing about is giving people the power to save their own life.

DW: I can see why that wouldn’t be the ER staff’s first thought. My dad’s a cardiologist, and I don’t think if I was throwing up, heart attack would be the first thing he thought of.

KA: I hope he would.

The medical; profession looks at women as being a hysterical bunch of people. And we’re not. Women deal with pain their whole lives. They have menstrual cramps, they birth children, they get the flu and still get up and get the kids to school. We are taught to work our way through it.

We make ourselves the last priority on the list.

CP: Exactly.

KA: And it ends up costing us our lives.

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