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 Home > News & Policies > November 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
November 6, 2003

Mrs. Bush's Remarks on Women's Heart Disease in Norfolk, Virginia
As Delivered
Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
Norfolk, Virginia

Thank you, Doris for your inspiring words. Doris and I have a lot in common - we both want women to know about their risk for heart disease, we both love teaching, and we both know what it's like to live with 21 year-old girls! A special thanks to the Tidewater members of the United States Military for your dedicated service. I appreciate the many sacrifices military families make. All of America prays for the men and women of our military who are helping the Iraqi people build a better future.

I'm pleased to be at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Lynn, Dr. Hochman, Dr. Hartman, and all the doctors and nurses here make Sentara a national center of excellence. And thanks to Dr. Beato of the Department of Health and Human Services for sponsoring "The Heart Truth" Campaign with the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. We want every woman across America to know "The Heart Truth" - which is that heart disease is the number one killer of women. The symbol of "The Heart Truth" Campaign is the red dress, which reminds women about their risk for heart disease.

The women on stage with me are wearing red because they want to remind you that women everywhere are at risk. Many of these women learned this first hand. They have survived a heart attack and they're committed to educating others about prevention. I hope that each of you will do the same when you leave here today. You owe it to your friends and loved ones and, most importantly - you owe it to yourself. More than eighty percent of women in Hampton Roads have at least one risk factor for heart disease. But it might surprise you that 53 percent of women don't know they are at risk.

Some of you are here because you managed to squeeze an hour out of your day. And you're probably thinking that at this moment you should be at the market or in a board meeting or making cookies for the soccer team. Many women spend time taking care of other people, instead of themselves. We may soak in the tub or get facials, but these are little perks that make us look good on the outside. I'm talking about taking care of our health by eating right, exercising and visiting the doctor.

Women love to share advice and information with each other. When a friend tells us about a miracle wrinkle cream, we immediately run out and buy it. If a co-worker recommends a fat-free recipe for double-fudge brownies, we race home and try it. But if a friend tells us that heart disease is the number one killer of women in America and that we need to get a check-up, we dismiss it and say, "I'll go when I have time."

The time to address heart disease is now. Heart disease kills nearly 500 thousand women in America every year - nearly fourteen-hundred mothers, sisters, and daughters, every day.

What is even more alarming is that most women think that heart disease is just a man's disease. But in reality, more women than men died of heart disease in 2002. Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. One in 30 women will die from breast cancer. One in two will die from heart disease and stroke.

A second misconception is that women and men experience the same signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Women often have a silent heart attack, one without symptoms. A new study released on Tuesday shows that the symptoms women do experience are so common many women don't know they're having a heart attack. The study, published by the National Institute of Nursing Research, found that ninety-five percent of women surveyed had new or different symptoms more than a month before their heart attack. The most common symptoms were excessive fatigue, trouble sleeping, and shortness of breath. Only thirty percent said they experienced chest pain before their heart attack.

Toni Biffle learned the truth about heart disease the hard way. Two years ago, the day after her 34th birthday, Toni's hands were numb when she woke up. Throughout the day, the numbness spread through her arms and she became incredibly tired. Her jaw was sore and she began sweating profusely. Three days before, she watched an episode of Oprah that focused on women and heart disease. Toni was shocked to realize that she had many of the symptoms discussed on the show. Her husband rushed her to the emergency room.

Because of her age and because she was a woman, the ER doctor told her that she couldn't be having a heart attack. But Toni smoked and her dad died of a heart attack when he was 57 years old. Toni demanded an EKG. The test results confirmed that she was having a heart attack. The right front valve of her heart was completely blocked. She had immediate surgery. Since then, Toni and her husband have quit smoking. Toni exercises everyday and encourages her friends to visit their doctor. She said, "I tell women to become more aware, and to open their eyes to the fact that we are more at risk for this disease than men." Toni, thank you for sharing your story to help educate others.

To reduce our risk for heart disease, we can exercise, eat a healthy diet, quit smoking, and get preventive screenings. By leading a healthy lifestyle, women can lower their risk of heart disease by a staggering eighty-two percent. We all know we should exercise - and we all know the excuses for not doing it - too busy, too tired, or too confused about how much is enough. But there is one absolute when it comes to exercise - any amount is better than none.

Walking is one of my favorite forms of exercise. I love to walk on trails at Camp David and at the ranch in Crawford. Grab a friend, your children or your dog and go for a walk. With a busy schedule it's tough to make time to exercise, but I try to walk at least three times a week. And if my mother-in-law Barbara Bush can swim 88 laps at a time, the rest of us can surely walk 30 minutes. You can't strengthen your heart if you continue to smoke. If you quit today, your risk of heart disease can be reduced up to fifty percent in one to two years. Exercising and not smoking are great steps to good health, but this must be combined with a healthy diet.

For many of us, this is truly the hard part. I especially love enchiladas, ice cream and, of course, barbecue. My New Year's resolution every year is to lose weight. But this year, my resolution was to get and to stay healthy. It's not as simple as it seems - especially not when you have a pastry chef whose idea of a "lite" desert is four layers of chocolate rather than six.

About 30 percent of heart attacks in women are due to being overweight or obese. We can avoid junk food by simply not buying it and we can eat more fruits and vegetables. If I can get my husband to eat broccoli, we can all eat an extra serving of vegetables a day.

Exercise and healthy eating will make us feel great. But only a doctor can give you a clean bill of health. I urge you to visit your doctor and learn your risk factors. You're fortunate to have doctors and nurses close to home who are recognized as some of the top in the country in heart health. I was pleased to learn that Sentara is building a heart hospital to provide patients with comprehensive cardiac care. Preventive screenings, healthy eating, and exercise are vital steps we can take to improve our health. But the best preventative medicine - is education.

I recently visited St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri to talk with women about heart disease. A few days after my visit, the doctors sent me an inspiring story about the power of education. Joyce Cullen woke in the middle of the night with chest pains. She was only 54 years old and didn't think she was at risk for a heart attack. But Joyce watched the news coverage of the event at St. Luke's. She learned the symptoms of heart disease and realized that she had many of them. Joyce went to the hospital where she suffered a heart attack. She had surgery and is recovering well. Today, Joyce is committed to educating other women about their risk for heart disease.

Together, we can make a life-saving difference through education and prevention. We must take time for ourselves - and take care of ourselves. I encourage you to go home, pull out your favorite red dress, and tell every woman you know that heart disease doesn't care what you wear. You know the risks for heart disease, so please Share The Heart Truth. Thank you.


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