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November 08. 2012 11:42PM

Women encouraged to take heart concerns seriously

MANCHESTER - Heather Karpinski learned she had heart disease at age 8. But she thought an enlarged heart meant she had more love to give.

Heart disease was a part of her family, with her mother suffering the first of three heart attacks when Karpinski was in third grade, and a stroke that left her paralyzed and resulted in her death when Karpinski was in high school. Just a few months after her mother's death, Karpinski's 20-year-old sister died of heart failure.

An Auburn resident, Karpinski had already begun her involvement with the American Heart Association when she suffered her own heart event - cardiac arrest at age 20.

She was at the neighborhood gym when she collapsed. Others at the gym called 911 and Karpinski said: "First responders saved my life."

Later, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, she had a subpectoral defibrillator implanted.

Karpinski, a senior at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business, told those attending the seventh-annual Go Red For Women luncheon at the Radisson Hotel that when she said, "I'm happy to be here," she meant more than at the luncheon.

Karpinski received the Go Red For Women Crystal Heart Award, given to a person who has served as an advocate, volunteer and a role model for improving women's health.

Karpinski has shared her story throughout New Hampshire and lobbied in Washington D.C. for policies to help people be heart healthy.

Karpinski was one of two heart disease survivors who spoke at the luncheon, which helped to raise more than $100,000 in the fight against heart disease and stroke. Abbe Hardiman appeared before the luncheon audience in a video and later in person.

She said she knew about heart issues in the back of her mind, but ignored her chest pains for about six weeks in 2009. Until the day she came back from walking her dog and the pain was excruciating.

"I literally collapsed in the door," said Hardiman.

What followed was three heart surgeries and four stents to address the circulation issues with her heart. She credits her boyfriend and family for keeping her psychologically stable during that period.

But she was the only one who could follow a program to lose weight and become fit. A picture of a T-shirt with the words "Sweat is fat crying" drew a big laugh from the audience.

As a result of her experience, her whole family was tested for heart issues, and although her siblings got a clean bill of health, both of her parents have issues and Hardiman's experience may have lengthened their lives.

Now 36, Hardiman said she has lost 65 pounds and isn't done yet. But she keeps at it because "I don't want to be a statistic." One in 2.4 women die of cardiovascular issues.

The Go Red For Women luncheon was the end of a half-day session that offered seminars on issues that ranged from how to accessorize your red dress, presented by Macy's, a national sponsor, to how to do CPR with only chest compressions.

The Go Red for Women campaign is designed to make women aware that heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are the number one causes of death in American woman.

The event was sponsored nationally by Macy's and Merck and locally by Harvard Pilgrim, New England Heart Institute of Catholic Medical Center, Bellwether Credit Union, Fair Point Communications, the Courville Communities and Dartmouth-Hitchock Medical Center. Media sponsors were the New Hampshire Union Leader, WZID, New Hampshire Business Review, New Hampshire Magazine and WMUR.

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Dale Vincent may be reached at dvincent@unionleader.com.


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