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Beating heart disease one woman at a time

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Wanda Jackson of Forestville, Md. is a heart disease survivor on a mission.

She has become an advocate for heart patients, saying she is part of an army that is taking on America’s number one killer.

“I didn’t understand what was happening,” she says of her first heart attack. “This is an experience I would never ever want another woman to live through.”

Jackson is a member of WomenHeart — a support group for women living with heart disease.

WomenHeart CEO Lisa Tate describes women like Jackson as “the high heels on the ground” in their fight against cardiovascular disease.

The focus is on the basics of heart disease prevention. Cardiologist Janet Wright, who is leading the effort for the Department of Health and Human Services, says they are concentrating on “aspirin for those at risk, blood pressure control, cholesterol management and smoking cessation.”

Wright says the stakes could not be higher — this is one of the largest public health initiatives in the nation’s history.

She says cardiovascular disease kills about 2,200 people every day, even though “when it comes to treating and preventing the disease that is killing us, we actually have the science at hand.”

Despite new knowledge and innovative medications, more Americans than ever are at risk for heart disease.

“If you are over 20 in this country, there is a 50 percent chance that you have a major risk factor,” she says.

Obesity and diabetes are major factors, but health experts say smoking among women remains a big problem. While overall death rates from heart disease have been declining over the last decade, one group is actually going up: Women aged 35 to 45, largely because of smoking.

WomenHeart is the latest group to sign on to a new national campaign aimed at saving one million lives over the next five years. Million Hearts is a partnership of government agencies, community groups, health care providers and non-profits.

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