Protecting Yourself Against Cardiovascular Disease

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February is American Heart Month, and cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. One way to prevent CVD? Get active. At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five days a week. Tracina Smith knows well the dangers of CVD. Back in 2009, the director of development at the YWCA of Northeast Indiana was driving on I-69 South when she began losing the feeling in her arms and legs. A severe headache clued her in: she was having a stroke. “As the fatigue (still) comes and goes, and I occasionally have a fall here and there, know that I am thankful to get up every day to the Son shining His light on me,” she says. Photo by Bonnie Manning, Feature PhotographerIt’s American Heart Month, and cardiovascular disease (heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure) is the number one killer of women in the United States. Photo by Bonnie Manning, Feature Photographer

Tracina Smith knows well the dangers of CVD. Back in 2009, the director of development at the YWCA of Northeast Indiana was driving on I-69 South when she began losing the feeling in her arms and legs. A severe headache clued her in: she was having a stroke.

Smith had been diagnosed with high blood pressure when she was 13, so she knew the signs to watch. She acted speedily, likely saving her life. She called her sister and alerted OnStar at the same time. While she was hoping they would be able to get assistance for her, she says “…really, I called them so that I would not die alone on the highway.”

Somehow, she managed to stop her car and an ambulance quickly came to her aid. But her recovery was not quite so quick. “It took eight months of rehab to learn how to walk with balance and to write legibly again; a new driving test; continued medical care,” says Smith. “But with the loving support of family and friends, I am here today.”

The American Heart Association’s website advises women to follow the “Life’s Simple Seven” list to help prevent cardiovascular disease:

  1. Get active. At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five days a week.
  2. Control cholesterol by avoiding animal products high in fat.
  3. Eat better. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, less red meat and sugar.
  4. Manage blood pressure by reducing sodium in your diet, managing stress and losing excess weight.
  5. Lose excess weight. The good news is following most of these other guidelines will help you do just that.
  6. Reduce blood sugar by eating less processed sugar, exercising and taking medication if required.
  7. If you smoke, stop.

Smith would not call herself “fully recovered.” “Full recovery is a relative term. I prefer to say that I have a ‘new normal,’” she says. For instance, she avoids the stairs, knowing how difficult they are for her. Processing information takes her longer than it might others due to a “slight cognizant deficit.” Her right side is still weaker than her left.

None of these challenges has prevented Smith from returning to work and living her life. “So, as the fatigue comes and goes and I occasionally have a fall here and there, know that I am thankful to get up every day to the Son shining His light on me.”

Since her stroke, Smith doesn’t allow herself to sweat the small stuff. Her doctors warn she will likely have another stroke at some point, even though it’s been over five years since her first. She also says “no” when she needs to and takes time for the things she enjoys: reading, spending time with her family, taking vacation and having dinner with friends.

She admits it’s not been a piece of cake: “This journey is by no means easy. There are those days when the tears come for no reason.  But, don’t feel sorry for me, just know it’s a part of the process.”

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About Drema Drudge

Drema Drudge received her MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University and has had her fiction most recently published in The Louisville Review, Mused, ATG, Mother Earth News, and Penumbra. She is a frequent contributor to the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Drema is married to musician Barry Drudge. They have two grown children, Mia and Zack. Feel free to visit Drema's website where she explores her passion for writing about art at dremadrudge.com.

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