Why I wear red: Every woman needs to prioritize her heart health

Clinician recounts experiences that have made her passionate about heart care for women.

In honor of American Heart Month, Tara Mudd, APRN, shares why she wears red to raise awareness each February: to remember her own journey, a grandmother lost and the importance of heart health for women today. 

Most 9-year-olds are busy playing sports, making new friends and navigating increased independence from their parents. At age 9, I was hospitalized with rheumatic fever.

I spent the next three months on bed rest and out of school. I missed out on field trips, birthday parties and my biggest disappointment — the school talent show.

The next several years included many follow-up appointments with my pediatrician and pediatric cardiologist. My chance for developing heart valve problems from rheumatic heart disease was very high. Fortunately, I was able to recover completely with no adverse effects on my heart, though I will need monitoring for the rest of my life.

It was at that point in my life when I became very interested in the heart, mostly out of fear of what could happen to my own.

As I got older, my late grandmother developed heart disease and ultimately ended up having surgery to get a mechanical mitral valve. I always got a kick out of listening to it “click” when I gave her a big hug. I never recalled her slowing down in any way before her surgery. She was always so busy caring for her family, which brought her the most joy.

Years later when I decided to enter into nursing, I was naturally drawn to anything related to the heart. I began working on in a hospital’s open heart step down unit during my undergraduate studies. In taking care of patients recovering from open heart surgery, I was most often drawn to stories from the female patients I cared for.

So often, their symptoms prior to surgery didn’t sound like my male patients’ symptoms. Many of them were going about their normal routines of caring for their families and loved ones that they didn’t realize how poor their own health was — much like my grandmother.

I now work as a cardiac electrophysiology nurse practitioner for Norton Heart Specialists, a part of Norton Heart & Vascular Institute. I take care of patients who have heart rhythm disorders, often as a result of underlying heart disease.

The stories I heard as a young nurse working in the hospital still come up in my practice today.  Women still have symptoms that may not fall into those that most easily seem like a heart problem.  They may not always have chest pain or jaw discomfort. They may just have some fatigue that they’ve attributed to taking care of everybody else. Sometimes we women brush off symptoms as stress or anxiety when they may be a sign of something more.

This February, I wear red for the little girl who wanted nothing more than to dance in her talent show. I wear red for my grandmother, whose mechanical valve click I would desperately love to hear again. And I wear red for the thousands of women I have cared for and will continue to care for who must finally prioritize their own hearts over others.

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