On a cold January night, 10 years ago, I was in the back of an ambulance, with a police escort, on my way to an emergency room where I would be cautioned not to fall asleep.

I had absolutely no idea what was wrong. All I knew was “something” told me I needed help. I had spent a few weeks being unusually tired and being treated for a mild cough. No matter how tired I was, I never could quite fall asleep without coughing.

I was expecting a dire diagnosis like lung cancer, but instead it was congestive heart failure and after seven weeks in the hospital and a new mitral valve, I was a different person. With medication and regular check-ups I am looking forward to many healthy years. I was more than lucky. In Maine, the number one killer of women is heart disease or stroke.

Heart failure is about the scariest thing that can happen to anyone and in Maine, it is the leading cause of death of women. I never knew this and I bet most of our readers don’t, either. Women fear breast cancer or lung disease, and most of us don’t even know that the symptoms of heart disease for women are very different than for men.

On Wednesday, Feb. 1, Windham Public Library will host its monthly “Health Chat” at 6 p.m. in the Meeting Room. The topic will be “Your Heart’s Desire: A Healthy Heart,” presented by Elizabeth Foley, Maine Cardiovascular Health Program. Everyone is welcome.

Heart disease affects women later in life than men, and there’s a substantial increase following menopause. A first heart attack will more likely kill a woman than a man. And 42 percent of women who have heart attacks die within a year – compared to 24 percent for men. Women are almost twice as likely to die following heart bypass surgery than men.

Many women think heart disease is a man’s disease. It isn’t! Heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading cause of death of women in Maine.

The program on Feb. 1 at Windham Library will offer an opportunity for all of you to find out information which could be life saving. And, ladies, if you think it couldn’t happen to you – think again. In my case I never had (and still don’t) high cholesterol, never had high blood pressure and in fact, never missed a day of work because of illness – in 40 years! My advice is to take an evening and find out about the thing you have to fear most. You will learn:

• Why women need to know about heart disease

• What is heart disease

• Heart disease risk factors

• How to talk to a doctor or other health care provider about heart disease and risks

• Taking action to lower your risk

• The signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke

• Resources to help women learn more about heart health

After I had a new valve implanted and received my blueprint for life after open-heart surgery, I began to tell all the women I knew what I had found out about women and heart disease. That’s why I feel the February 1 Health Chat at the Library, at 6 p.m. should not be missed by women of any age and the ones who care for them.

You don’t need to register for the Health Chat, but give Barbara a call at 892-1908 so she will have some idea of how many will be on hand.

Find out how to help save your own life and especially here in our state, where it is so dangerous for women.

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