On the day in 2013 when Julia Allen thought she might be a having a heart attack, she remembered having seen “something about red” on a highway billboard. Part of the message was that women’s heart attack symptoms differ from men’s.
Suffering nausea and chest tightness that made it hard to breathe, she did a Google search and up popped the American Heart Association’s “ Go Red for Women” website. Stories she read there mirrored her own. And it was then, after six hours of resisting, she finally went to the hospital.
Months later, Allen’s story won her a spot as one of nine “ Real Women” volunteers for this year’s Go Red for Women campaign against heart disease. She represents the Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, which includes the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and Washington.
In that role, Allen, 46, a Charlotte wife and mother, who has three sons, is traveling the country, speaking about her experience and promoting “National Wear Red Day” Friday.
The campaign seeks to dispel the myth that cardiovascular disease is a man’s problem. More women than men die every year from heart disease and stroke.
After several months of cardiac rehab, Allen lost 30 pounds and changed her habits. She works with a nutritionist on her diet and walks for an hour several times a week. Knowing her family history – both parents have heart disease, as did three of her grandparents – Allen had all her children evaluated. Her teenage son, an avid runner, was found to have high cholesterol even though he’s physically fit.
Before her heart attack, Allen said her health was “clearly not my priority. I was go-go-go, take care of everybody else.”
That’s why she delayed seeing a doctor on April 15, 2013. She started feeling sick before 9 a.m. at SouthPark’s CertusBank, where she is head teller. She assumed it was the flu, but in addition to nausea, she felt a panoply of other symptoms – “twisting and tightening” in her chest, heart burn, and pain in her jaw and left arm.
When her symptoms passed, she resisted suggestions from colleagues and her husband to go to the hospital. But after that Google search, she called her doctor, who ordered her to the emergency room. About 3 p.m., Allen drove herself there – after stopping at home first to put out a key and make after-school snacks for her sons.
At the hospital, her symptoms returned and monitors confirmed she had a second heart attack. Allen remains thankful for remembering that “Go Red” billboard. Because of that, “my children still have a mother, and my husband still has a wife,” Allen said. “It saved my life.”