Listen to your body

WAILEA – Wailuku resident Haydee Millet was only 27 years old when she suffered a heart attack.

“You can easily ignore the symptoms,” said Millet, who was living in New Jersey at the time. “I was having the symptoms. I was told that I was too young to be having a heart attack.

“When I finally listened to my body,” she said, and went to see another doctor, a stress test showed a 99 percent blockage of the artery that brings oxygen to the heart.

“If I had just ignored it, I wouldn’t be here now,” said Millet, now 34.

After changing her diet and exercise, she lost more than 100 pounds and gave birth to her son, Christian, now 4.

She and other survivors of heart disease or stroke encouraged women to keep tabs on their health and seek treatment for symptoms.

“Women do a good job of taking care of husbands, sons, nephews and others. They don’t do a good job of taking care of themselves,” said Wailuku resident Char Mansfield, another survivor. “Women have to be very assertive about their health care.

“You know your body best. If something’s not right, you talk until somebody listens.”

Survivors shared their stories as they served as models for a Macy’s-sponsored fashion show during the Go Red For Women luncheon and health expo Saturday at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.

“They are amazing women,” said Kauwela Bisquera, Maui County regional director for the American Heart Association.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary nationwide and fifth year on Maui, the Go Red For Women event was the biggest ever on Maui, with nearly 400 people filling the hotel ballroom for the luncheon, Bisquera said.

Of the 979 deaths on Maui in 2009, the most recent year for which the state Department of Health has finalized data, 303, or nearly 31 percent, were caused by major cardiovascular diseases. The number of cardiovascular deaths included 173 men and 130 women.

In 2010, 2.3 percent of adults in the state reported that a health care professional had told them they had angina or coronary heart disease. Kauai and Maui counties had a higher prevalence of coronary heart disease than Hawaii and Honolulu counties, according to the Department of Health.

Go Red For Women mobilizes women to be advocates for heart health and stroke prevention in their families and communities.

Waikapu resident Jocelyn Moniz has been a volunteer for four years, serving as a Go Red For Women ambassador for the past three years.

“We get out and educate women about heart health – really take care of yourself, really pay attention,” she said. “As women, we have different symptoms than men.”

Moniz volunteered after her sister, Jojo Gascon, was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT, after suffering episodes of her heart beating faster than normal.

“It’s because of family,” Moniz said of her involvement. “That’s my passion.”

After becoming light-headed during her first episode when she was eight months pregnant in 1993, Gascon went five years before another episode. Intravenous medication brought her heart back to a normal rhythm.

Then, in January 2011, the year her granddaughter was born, the 47-year-old Wailuku resident had another episode. This time, the intravenous medication didn’t work. When her vital signs were checked, she was told it was “amazing you’re walking around like normal.”

“The doctor told me, ‘Stay with us,’ ” Gascon said. “In my head, I was thinking, ‘Where am I supposed to go?’ “

A month later, the episodes began happening weekly. In December 2011, she underwent a procedure where doctors “literally burned the defective parts of my heart,” Gascon said.

Wailuku resident Louise Auwae said she got her pacemaker in 1998 when she was living in Honolulu. She was having blackouts that couldn’t be explained and tried to hide them from her children.

“The big one came one night when my youngest son, at the age of 12, found me on the floor and woke up my husband,” Auwae said.

Her husband, a welder who had been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation for his job, started efforts to revive her. “He saved me, then the ambulance came,” she said.

In July, the 58-year-old had the battery changed on her pacemaker.

Lisa Dang-Fujishiro tells people to go straight to the hospital if they have a major headache and vomiting – telltale signs of the brain aneurysm that put her in a coma for two and a half weeks in 2006.

Dang-Fujishiro credits co-worker Jamie Adams for taking her to the emergency room. Her doctor later explained that a Food and Drug Administration-approved stent was placed in a narrowed artery of her brain, a first in the state.

The 54-year-old Wailuku resident said she was given a clean bill of health in 2011.

“The important message is any unusual sensation, anything – strange arm pain, strange nausea – just get it checked out,” said Morgan Andaluz, a 44-year-old Kihei resident.

She first suffered a heart episode that her doctor believes was related to heart muscle spasms possibly because of stress and hormones shortly after her 40th birthday.

After falling asleep with her kids after reading them a story, she was awakened by chest pains and crawled into the bathroom, lying on the floor and almost losing consciousness. When she was finally able to crawl upstairs, she called her husband, telling him she thought she was having a heart attack.

By the time he got home, the pain was gone.

She went swimming and running. When she told a friend whose husband was a paramedic what happened, “She said, ‘You need to go to the doctor right now,’ ” Andaluz said.

She had left the doctor’s office when she got a call from the blood lab 45 minutes later and was put on blood thinners.

Andaluz also was a Go Red For Women model in 2011.

“It’s really cool to hear everybody’s stories,” she said. “It gives you a greater sense of the gravity of it and how women behave in a certain way to put other people’s stuff in front of their own.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.