2 women with stories "from the heart"

February 25, 2008 5:57:34 AM PST
8 million American women are currently living with heart disease. Awareness is growing. But few women think it will ever happen to them.

2 days after giving birth to twins, Adria Sumter of Magnolia, New Jersey, had trouble breathing .

Luckily, she was in the hospital, and received oxygen, but still -

"I'm like gasping for air, and I passed out, and I don't remember anything after that," she recalls.

It would be a week before Adria emerged from a coma, to learn that she had peripartum cardiomyopathy.

This weakening of the heart muscle develops in the last trimester of pregnancy, or up to 6 months after delivery.

It's believed that proteins associated with the pregnancy cause a woman's body to attack itself.

The condition is rare, though more common in African-American women, and those carrying multiples.

And it can be deadly.

Adria recalls solemnly, " They told my family that night, August 3rd, that I was going to die."

Fortunately, Adria pulled through.....

Haddonfield Mayor Tish Colombi never thought of heart disease when she awoke with an upset stomach near Valentine's Day 10 years ago.

24 hours later, at the hospital, Colombi learned she was having a heart attack.

Tish says, "I really couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was totally shocked."

Almost a year later, about to go on vacation, Colombi felt a "sadness," or heaviness in her chest.

Again, a shock.

She says the hospital staff told her, " You're not going anywhere, you're having a heart attack."

Dr. Fredric Ginsberg of Cooper University Hospital says women may not have "classic" heart attack symptoms, like chest pain. "Women can develop arm discomfort, jaw discomfort, back discomfort, sweating, or nausea."

He says women have lower heart disease rates till menopause, but catch up to men by age 65.

Tish is now a campaigner for greater awareness of heart disease among women. She speaks at gatherings, and has encouraged Haddonfield merchants to create red window displays, to match the red ribbons on light posts along main streets. She says red was always a favorite clothing color, but it has special meaning now.

Adria.... And Tish say women must face the facts.

As Tish says, "It's time love your heart, and to love it enough to find out about it."

Adria adds, "Family history.. Know your family history."