February 8, 2017

'I have heart disease, but it doesn't have me'

“There’s a stigma with having heart disease,” Eve Walker said. “It’s important to talk about it — what you don’t know can kill you.

Eve Walker with two friends all wearing red
Eve Walker and friends who Go Red for the American Heart Association

The facts are shocking: heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds. All the more reason to increase awareness of the symptoms — as the American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day campaign is doing.

Eve Walker knows this all too well. Had she recognized that her generalized pain and tiredness are common signs of heart disease, and obtained medical attention, perhaps she would not have had a heart attack — at age 28.

A heart attack ... at age 28?

It’s not common, but it happened to Eve, a Kaiser Permanente Southern California consultant for the Medi-Cal Strategy State Programs department. Like many other women in their twenties, Eve was active and hardworking. She loved modern dancing and had two young sons. When she began feeling tired after minor exertions, such as walking up and down stairs, or even going to work, she didn’t think she required medical help. She attempted to get a boost from coffee and candy, and took aspirin to relieve her pain.

One day, Eve felt that telltale tingling travel up the left side of her body. A neighbor took her to the hospital, where testing revealed she’d suffered a heart attack. She was later diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle. Doctors prescribed medication and advised her to limit certain activities.

Life changes

Being so young, for years, Eve was too afraid to accept how her life would change, “I didn't want to be the poster child for heart disease.” Today, Eve Walker is an inspiration to the lives she is touching as a national volunteer spokesperson for the American Heart Association, using her spare time urging women to be open about their health and to recognize the signs of heart disease and stroke.

“After learning everything the AHA does to promote education and awareness, I realized I WAS a poster child,” she continues, “and that I had a responsibility as a survivor to help people to best of my ability.”

A bunch of women who are survivors of heart attacks are wearing white and waving red flags and jumping outside in a nice park.

American Heart Association advocates for Go Red for Women.

A role to relish

Now, Eve relishes her role representing Go Red for Women, the AHA’s national movement to end heart disease and stroke in women. With National Wear Red day on February 3, she inspired all of us to think about our own heart health. She made appearances on heart.org, WebMD, KTLA  —  and in the Walnut Center administrative offices lobby in Pasadena where visitors were able chat with her and check their online Personal Action Plans, available for Kaiser Permanente employees.

Armed with the knowledge that 80 percent of deaths due to heart attacks are preventable with education and awareness, Eve has set out to make people aware of their risks simply by knowing the symptoms of heart disease, and their related family history.

“There’s a stigma with having any kind of heart or health issue,” she said. “It’s important to talk about it because when it comes to your health, what you don’t know can kill you. If you think something is wrong, get it checked out and don’t ignore the symptoms.”

More deadly than all cancers combined

According to Elizabeth D. Dueñas, MD, FAAFP, Department of Family Medicine, Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center and Hypertension Physician Champion, "A staggering 1 in 3 deaths among women are caused by heart disease and stroke each year — more than all cancers combined. The good news is that most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented and controlled with education, lifestyle changes and appropriate medication. Understanding the signs of heart disease in women — and how they differ from the symptoms that men may experience — is a potentially life-saving step that we can all take."

Eve Walker wearing a beautiful red dress
Eve Walker

Speaking with passion

To help spread this understanding, Eve travels near and far to share her story on how women can survive and thrive after a heart attack. As a volunteer and "passion speaker" for the American Heart Association since 2013, she visits community health events and does local media, winning a “You’re the Cure” award for her work.

“My life was spared 16 years ago because I have a purpose, and that's to bring awareness to heart disease, the No. 1 killer that strikes more women than all cancers combined.”

Even with her many accomplishments, Eve is most proud of the lives she touches simply by raising awareness of the disease.

“Having compassion about our members' care in Kaiser Permanente is synonymous with my role with the American Heart Association" she said. "If I could be proud of anything, it would be that a woman heard my story, went to the doctor and lived because she got checked out in time.”