February has become a very special month for me. Why? I am not married nor am I dating, so I cannot say that Valentine's Day is a holiday I am eagerly anticipating. Now that I am retired, President's Day is just another day, and not a respite from a busy workplace. But it is a month that has a lot of potential for me.
If you watch television and have listened to public service announcements and segments on the local news over the last few years, you may well be aware that February is heart month. In addition to a whole 28 (and sometimes 29) days being devoted to health matters of the heart, there even is a special emphasis on women wearing red on one day early in the month of February.
First, a little history about Heart Month. American Heart month first occurred in February of 1964 by a proclamation issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The proclamation was especially apt because President Johnson was a heart attack survivor.
Why devote an entire month to the heart? Well it’s a pretty important organ and there are a number of conditions that can have an adverse impact on your heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. The American Heart Association also reminds us that cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, remains the leading global cause of death with more than 17.3 million deaths each year. That number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.
The focus on American Heart Month and cardiovascular research in the 54 years since President Johnson signed the proclamation has produced fantastic results. A 2014 interview with the American Heart Association CEO in the Huffington Post quoted the following statistics and the context:
At first glance, the change in these figures looks pretty good. But there’s another factor that makes the reversal in deaths due to heart and cardiovascular diseases far more powerful: the explosive growth of our nation’s population. From 1960 to 2010, the number of Americans jumped by more than 72 percent, a rise of more than 129 million people. However, the annual number of deaths from cardiovascular diseases dropped by tens of thousands.
February 2, 2018 is this year’s National Wear Red Day. Sponsored by the American Heart Association, the first National Wear Red Day was in February 2003. The intent was to bring national attention to the fact that heart disease is the #1 killer of women, and to raise awareness of women’s heart health. The effort has succeeded, with the following successes noted in 2017:
Despite this progress, 1 in 3 women still die of heart disease and stroke each year. So try to remember to wear red this February 3 to spur more women to make significant, life altering changes in their behavior to include their eating and exercise habits.
I found an interesting fact about National Wear Red day when I was on the website of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I saw a reference to the fact that National Wear Red Day is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Heart Association. Apparently the effort to wear red in honor of women’s heart health is so valuable that someone decided it was a valuable trademark!
Hopefully the statistics cited above will be enough to alert you to the importance of taking care of your heart. I admit that prior to 2013, I did not pay much attention to my heart. I did not think I had any reason to, as heart disease or heart attacks did not seem to run in my family. I learned the hard way that there are other things that can cause a heart issue. So take it from me, if you see any articles or television segments on heart issues during heart month, please pay attention to them. What you see or read may be sufficient to help you avert a cardiac disaster, or at least make you more sensitive to a problem that may be lurking in your heart.
The Heart Failure Society of America has a webpage devoted to Heart Failure week of 2018. The theme of this year’s campaign, which takes place during the week of February 11 – 18, is “Do Your Part, Know Your Heart.” According to the webpage, the intent is to make living with heart failure less of a challenge, and to arm patients with the information and resources they need to take control of their heart health.
I love that there is a week during heart month that is devoted to making folks aware about what heart failure is. I have to make an admission that makes me feel very ignorant. I considered myself person who keeps up with health issues. But I had never heard of the condition “heart failure” until it appeared as a diagnosis on my medical chart. I suspect that most people are like me – aware of things like cardiac arrest, heart disease, heart attacks, atrial fibrillation. But up until recently, I never heard the term in everyday discussion. That may change in light of the current advertisements for the drug Entresto, where heart failure and its symptoms are portrayed. It is a very engaging commercial, and it presents a hopeful perspective on a very challenging condition.
I have noticed over the past few years that the Washington Post health section has a number of heart related articles during heart month. I will be looking forward to reading those articles in a few weeks, and learning more about heart conditions. I never turn down the chance to find out something new that might apply to my treatment!
So even though I won't get any special gifts on Valentine's Day, I may well get many gifts as the result of heart month and related events. I may get more research that will develop new devices that make life with a damaged heart much easier. I doubt that in my lifetime we will have cure for heart failure, but we there may be significant progress in reaching that goal. At the very least, I may get a gift in that more people will be aware of the condition that I live with on a daily basis, and this will make me feel less peculiar.
I hope you will receive a gift during heart month as well. I hope you will take a moment to become more of an expert on your heart as well. Keep your eyes, ears, mind and hearts open to learning and becoming more proactive with your health. Trust me, the best time to find out how to maintain good heart health is when you have it – not after it has been stolen from you.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.