Lawmakers in Support of Women’s Heart Health
BOSTON -- Several local lawmakers recently joined together at the State House to raise awareness of heart disease and stroke as the leading cause of death among women.
The event was part of Go Red for Women, a campaign led by the American Heart Association that advocates for more research and swifter action for women’s cardiovascular health.
State Sens. Dean A. Tran (R-Fitchburg) and Anne M. Gobi (D-Spencer), as well as Reps. Natalie M. Higgins (D-Leominster) and Kimberly N. Ferguson (R-Holden), joined more than 75 lawmakers in wearing red to show support for women’s heart and brain health.
Since Go Red for Women launched in 2004, nearly 300 fewer women die from heart disease and stroke each day, according to the American Heart Association. Eighty percent of cardiovascular diseases can be prevented, and more than 50 percent of women are now aware of that fact.
“We need to make sure women have all the information and tools they need to make healthy choices in their lives,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat.
Senate President Karen E. Spilka detailed how cardiovascular disease has affected her family. Her father died after suffering a massive heart attack at the age of 58. Her mother had several heart attacks and strokes in her 60s before she died.
“I urge all residents to show their support for women and the fight against heart disease by speaking out about the dangers of heart disease, spreading awareness and empowering women to reduce their risk for cardiovascular diseases,” said Spilka, an Ashland Democrat.
Spilka said people can take easy steps to improve their cardiovascular health, such as exercising and eating healthier foods. She now takes the stairs at the State House, rather than elevators, and is working to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into her diet.
“I urge all of you to take stairs,” said Spilka to her fellow lawmakers. “We have a lot of stairs in this building.”
The State House Go Red for Women event was organized by the American Heart Association and the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators. Caucus member Elizabeth Poirier, a Republican state representative from North Attleboro, introduced 8-year-old Scarlett O’Hanlon, also of North Attleboro, who was born with a heart defect.
Scarlett was joined by her parents, Ryan and Jamie O’Hanlon, and her four older sisters, to share their story and urge lawmakers to pass legislation that will help people live longer, healthier lives. Standing in front of the wooden podium, and reading from a piece of paper, Scarlett told lawmakers of her love of soccer, rollerblading and running on the treadmill. She said she wants to be a scientist when she grows up.
“I’m a pretty normal kid, and from the outside, you would never guess that I had heart disease,” she said. “I had no blood flow from the heart to the lungs when I was born. The doctors did an operation on me in Children’s Hospital in Boston. Without that operation, I would have died.”
Scarlett is awaiting another open-heart surgery to repair and replace valves in her heart. She will need treatment for the rest of her life. Despite looking healthy most of the time, her mother said Scarlett turns blue when she runs, has difficulty walking up flights of stairs, and recently experienced seizures after coming down with a cough due to a lack of oxygen to her brain.
Jamie O’Hanlon said that in the past eight years, she has met many families who have children born with heart defects, some of which tragically lost their child.