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Survivor Urges Women to Recognize Heart Disease

February is Heart Health month, and tomorrow is Valentine's Day—all about hearts!

Donna Ringwald had her first heart attack at age 49—but she didn’t learn it was happening until 27 hours after it began.

Ringwald, of St. Charles, was on a trip with some girlfriends in 2005 when she started having bad heartburn and didn't feel well. She decided to rest while her friends went out to shop and eat.

She made a phone call to her family members and eventually talked to a friend who’s a nurse who convinced her to get to a hospital.

At the ER, her friends—who are also cardio stenographers—looked at her heart rhythm and realized she was having a heart attack.

“I had been a cardio stenographer for over 20 years,” she said. “I didn’t put two and two together.”

Her symptoms included nausea, belching, vomiting and heartburn—not the typical "elephant on the chest" pressure that people associate with a heart attack.

Since then she’s had another heart attack and seven stents put in. Ringwald also become an ambassador for WomenHeart, a national coalition for women with heart disease. She's learned the benefits of support.

Chesterfield WomenHeart Support Group

Ringwald helps lead a WomenHeart support group at . She also tells her story at events throughout the St. Louis area. Ringwald said women spend so much time taking care of others that they often forget to take care of themselves.

“You’ve got to know your body, know your symptoms and know when to take care of yourself,” she said.

Event Aims to Raise Awareness

Ringwald recently appeared at “Her Heart: Every Beat Counts” conference in St. Charles. Nearly 425 people attended, said Sue Dressel,  marketing specialist.

The event included speeches from physicians and survivors as well as screenings for blood pressure, body fat and glucose. The goal for the event is to teach women about the dangers of heart disease.

“Heart disease is not just for older folks,” she said. “You can be young and you can have a heart attack.”

Learning about the symptoms helped Dressel, who is 50, in 2010. One day she was having a pain in her chest, felt sweaty and nauseated. “I thought, ‘I think I could be having a heart attack,’” she said.

Dressel went to the hospital and learned she wasn’t having a heart attack. But if she hadn’t known the symptoms, she might not have recognized the potential danger.

“The importance is awareness,” she said.

SSM Heart Institute will hold another "Her Heart: Every Beat Counts" event from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Orlando Gardens in Webster Groves, 8352 Watson Rd. To register or learn more information click here.

Other Area WomenHeart Support Groups:

  • WomenHeart of Mid-St. Louis County: This group meets at the Heart Care Institute at 1020 North Mason Rd. in Creve Coeur. For more information contact shelly_mailbox@yahoo.com or (314) 494-7404. 

  • WomenHeart of St. Charles County meets from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at  on the second Thursday of the month at the Cardiology Center. Visit www.bjsph.org for more information.

  • WomenHeart at _St. Anthony's Medical Center _is held on the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in Cardiac Rehabilitation, Suite 105 at 10012 Kennerly Road. For more information call 314-525-4091.


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