PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Despite years of raising awareness, the CDC says only 56-percent of women recognize heart disease as their number one killer. Temple Health hopes to change that with a heart disease program aimed just at women.
It seemed like 69-year-old Marlita Milliner had chronic bronchitis.
"I kept coughing and coughing and it wouldn't go away," she said.
After medications didn't bring much relief, a doctor suggested Milliner had congestive heart failure.
In pursuit of a second opinion, she found cardiologist Dr. Deborah Crabbe of Temple Health.
"When she took the EKG, it was very low. And she suggested some things that I should be doing to bring my heart rate back up," said Milliner.
Dr. Crabbe said that while doctors and women are becoming more aware of the heart disease risks, black women, particularly her patients in North Philadelphia, lag behind.
"This is a huge challenge getting them to understand their risk factors, and getting them to a point where they can impact on these risk factors through lifestyle modification," she said.
And though heart disease in women usually develops 10-15 years after menopause, she sees a worrisome trend.
"Younger women, particularly of childbearing age, are having increased risk, particularly in the African American community, where some of these pre-existing risk factors are impacting their maternal outcomes," she said.
Factors like: being overweight, having diabetes, having high blood pressure, smoking, poor physical activity, and family history.
While you can't change family history, Dr. Crabbe said women can take control of the other factors. Milliner has done just that.
"I was able to walk and exercise around my building, and in my building, in my apartment," she said. "I've changed my eating habits. I used to eat a lot of fatty foods like cheesesteaks, French fries, hamburgers."
"I feel great. I don't feel 69," she said.
Through Dr. Crabbe she's become Temple's first Women Heart Champion, sharing her knowledge.
"I do talk to the women in my building. A lot of them are most likely in their 80s and older, and they don't have anyone to talk to about heart disease," she said.
Milliner said going to a center like Temple with a rich expertise in women's heart disease turned her health around.