Sharon Chastain was the first of six siblings to come up against their family history of heart disease. Two years ago, she had a heart attack at the age of 48. Since then, two of her brothers have also suffered heart attacks – and, one did not survive.
Fighting heart disease is now a personal crusade for Sharon, who figures prominently in the Go Red For Women movement in Seattle, WA. She explains: “I got involved with Go Red because I cannot sit idly by and watch heart disease claim more lives.”
“My family always knew there was a history of heart disease. My dad died at the age of 49 from a heart attack and very few men in his family ever lived beyond their 50s. So, for some reason, I always thought it was my brothers who were at risk. It never occurred to me I would have a heart attack.”
Like many women juggling a career and active family (she has two daughters, ages 16 and 30), Sharon ignored her symptoms until it was almost too late. A “fluttering feeling” at the base of her throat became routine over several weeks as she pushed through her busy schedule as Vice President of Operations for Premera Blue Cross. She felt weak and tired during a hectic business trip and returned home with body aches, pain in her cheeks and shooting down her spine. Her husband took her to the emergency room where tests showed her right coronary artery was blocked. Doctors inserted a stent to open it and she went into cardiac rehab for six weeks.
“I was blown away by how many women were in rehab,” Sharon says, “and how many were just like me. They pushed through their daily lives thinking they had to take care of everyone else and ignored their own health.”
Sharon helped establish the local Go Red Passion Committee last year. Included are survivors like her, women whose families are touched in some way by heart disease and stroke and others simply interested in improving the health of their community. For the Chastains, it is a family affair with her eldest daughter and two nieces also involved. The group works year-round supporting American Heart Association educational and fund-raising activities. At the Seattle Heart Walk, the Passion Committee distributed medals to those completing the Survivor Walk -- which included Sharon and her brother Greg, pictured here.
The Passion Committee coordinated a high-profile Go Red event with Macy’s on Feb. 4 and is now working on an upcoming Wine Walk and the Go Red Luncheon in May. Sharon notes, “Our activities educate women to the fact that when they make lifestyle changes to eat healthy and be physically active, their whole family can benefit and lives will be saved.”