Jul 17, 2011 11:35 PM by Dr. Anya Winslow

Number one killer in the U.S.

Gently pressing down on the piano's pristine keys, the now nearly 46-year old Kim Davis looks radiant and healthy, but she has always felt that way.

"You see overweight people all over the place and, you know, sometimes you can dress a package enough that it doesn't look quite as bad as it really is, and I did not think it could happen to me. Up to that point, as far as I knew, I was very healthy," says Davis.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association, the following are true about heart disease:

- It's the number one killer of women and men in the U.S.
- On average, one American dies every thirty-nine seconds due to cardiovascular disease each day.
- Women account for nearly fifty percent of heart disease deaths.
- Nearly two-thirds of women who die suddenly of a heart attack had no prior symptoms.
- More women die of heart disease than the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.
- It's the number one killer of women twenty and older.
Davis, had no idea she had a problem with her heart until the fall of 2006 when she was close to eighty pounds heavier.

She gestures with her fist pulling away from her torso, "It was as if a hand took, grabbed my muscles, pulled ‘em in and pushed them into the center of my chest...I lost all moisture in my mouth...and then exhaustion hit me immediately."

She describes the exhaustion as no ordinary exhaustion. "The exhaustion that I felt was not sleepy exhaustion. It was absolute drained exhaustion. I was depleted instantly of all my energy."

In less than a week, her tests revealed a ninety-five percent blockage in one of the main arteries of the heart - the left anterior descending (LAD). It supplies blood to the front portion of the heart.

"When people have a heart attack where that is blocked, they call it the ‘widow maker,'" says Davis.

Within four days of the doctors' discovery, she needed to have open heart surgery.

"I couldn't believe it, and I told him, ‘But I'm young, and I'm a woman. This just doesn't happen.'"

Tears come to Davis's eyes as she recalls the night before going into surgery. "I'm looking at my three children, my husband, and my mother and her husband, and I'm wondering if this was the last time I was going to be with them."

After a successful surgery and a year-and-a-half of following a special diet, Davis's blood pressure and cholesterol continued to rise, even though she had lost around twenty pounds.

"I remember my doctor saying if you don't lose weight, and if you don't lose it fast, you're going to be back under the knife," she recalls.

Extreme measures were needed to help Davis shed the pounds. She underwent gastric bypass surgery. Combined with hour-long sessions at the gym four or five days a week, as well as a portion control over what she ate, she finally began seeing results.

She attributes embarrassment as one of her hurdles to not seeking help for her obesity and not wanting to believe she had heart troubles. "That embarrassment was very strong. I just plain didn't want to go [to the doctor]. I was just embarrassed," she says emphatically.

Her doctor suggested that she use the American Heart Society as a resource to help her achieve a heart healthy life. She vividly remembers the conversation, "Oh, sure, I know about the American Heart Association, but I didn't recognize the resources available. " She now proudly says, "I'm a part of it."

One of the resources that is helping many Americans, Davis included, is the American Heart Association's "Life's Simple 7."

The "Simple 7," which include: getting active, eating better, stopping smoking, controlling your cholesterol, managing your blood pressure, reducing your blood sugar, and maintaining a healthy weight, are designed to help people start a new life resolution.

Davis also recommends finding support and letting others know your goal, being honest about what you are eating, and setting goals that are reasonable and attainable.

Davis reflects on the time she started going to the gym, "I realized what better person to be at the gym then someone who's overweight," she says smiling. "I'm not're not on display showing off this skinny person can move. I had to tune out people around me and focus on, ‘Can I walk these two miles? My next goal was: Can I run this half-mile? Can I lift this weight?'"

She also says that people at her gym were very encouraging. "People are very excited to see people who are overweight and exercising."

One of the perks of losing all that weight she says with a smile, "My daughter is thin and, we get to share clothes sometimes," she laughs.

As for her next goal - Davis wants to climb the incline, and she has recruited the help of a trainer to help her get to the top.

Click here to get your "Life's Simple 7" assessment from the American Heart Association. All information is confidential.

Click here to learn more about symptoms of heart disease in women, as published by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

See more information about gastric bypass surgery as published by the Mayo Clinic and  WebMD .



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