/American Heart Associations Go Red for Women encourages wearing of red – TribLIVE

American Heart Associations Go Red for Women encourages wearing of red – TribLIVE

Days before she was to board a Walt Disney Cruise Line with her family two years ago, Rachel Brecht was told she couldn’t go.

She needed heart surgery.

“I said to my cardiologist, I am leaving for a cruise,” said Brecht, 44, from Bethel Park. “And he said, ‘No you’re not.’ ”

Within a year, a heart murmur from a previous checkup had become so serious that Brecht needed to have a valve replaced and her aorta repaired. She had the operation at UPMC Shadyside.

“It was heavy at first when I found out, and for days afterward I felt like I was feeling symptoms,” said Brecht, who lost a sister, Adrian Aul, to a brain tumor. “I was tired and worried. … The most valuable gift we can give to those we love is to stay healthy.”

Part of staying healthy means paying attention to your body, she said, and knowing the numbers such as blood pressure, diabetes and weight.

On Friday, the American Heart Association seeks to raise awareness of women’s heart health with the Go Red for Women National Wear Red Day. Women, and men, are encouraged to wear red clothing to signal their involvement.

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, claiming the lives of one in three, according to the American Heart Association. It is also the leading cause of all maternal death.

Go Red for Women launched in 2004. It strives to empower women to take charge of their health. Over $600 million has been raised to support research, education, advocacy, prevention and awareness programs.

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Courtesy of Rachel Brecht Courtesy of Rachel Brecht

Rachel Brecht (left) of Bethel Park with husband Gabe and their daughter Maggie attend a Go Red for Women walk for awareness of heart disease. Rachel Brecht had heart surgery two years ago. She plans to wear red on Feb. 7, the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women’s National Wear Red Day.

Brecht will don a red hue on a Walt Disney Cruise Line vacation with husband, Gabe, and their 8-year-old daughter, Maggie.

“I feel a personal connection to this day,” she said. “I believe I have a sense of responsibility because it is the year 2020 and women still aren’t prioritizing their health.”

At 30 years old, she had a routine physical exam that detected a heart murmur. An echocardiogram determined she had a congenital heart defect known as bicuspid aortic valve disease. She continued to see a cardiologist. After the birth of her daughter, she experienced severe preeclampsia, sometimes known as toxemia of pregnancy — a condition closely related to gestational hypertension. She chose to not have another child, she said.

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy complicate 5% to 10% of pregnancies and are increasing with the rising prevalence of cardiometabolic diseases in younger women, according to the American Heart Association.

Janet Catov, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pittsburgh, does research on pregnancy-related signs that may identify future cardiovascular disease.

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Courtesy of Janet Catov

Janet Catov, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pittsburgh, does research on pregnancy-related signs that may identify future cardiovascular disease.

“The point of this day is to continue to increase awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and it’s about learning about how to take the steps for a healthy lifestyle,” said Catov, who will also wear red on Friday.

Catov met Brecht at the Go Red for Women luncheon last year in Pittsburgh.

“Her speech was so powerful,” Catov said. “And her daughter was by her side. Something such as heart disease affects everybody. Pregnancy is supposed to be a healthy, joyful time, but when it’s not it can be tragic. It is so important to understand cardiovascular health and maternal mortality which are all connected.”

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Courtesy of American Heart Association

Rachel Brecht (left) of Bethel Park with daughter Maggie at the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women luncheon. Feb. 7 is National Wear Red Day.

Having a personal story, Brecht said she feels a sense of responsibility to share it.

“It is the year 2020, and there still is not enough attention and research on women’s heart health,” she said.

Brecht used the analogy of being on an airplane with the flight attendant informing passengers in case of an emergency place your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.

After her mother recovered, Brecht’s daughter told the surgeon: “Thank for saving my mommy.”

“She and I talk about it,” Brecht said of her daughter. “You are no good if you are not here to take care of them. For me, when I wear red, it is with a sense of gratification and obligation to share my story with other women. Your health is yours and not your doctors’. You have to own it. Listen to your body.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, [email protected] or via Twitter .