Local heart disease survivor has a warning for young women

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Stefani Spainhower is a woman on a mission. In the prime of her life, age 29, she was diagnosed with heart disease. Now, at age 34, Spainhower is a heart disease survivor and a researcher, hoping to change the future of cardiac care.

In 2009, Spainhower was a nurse practitioner in the cardiac unit at a Kansas City area hospital. She was the picture of health.

"I was working full time and I was an avid cyclist," Spainhower explained.

One day at work, Spainhower said she became winded walking up the stairs at work. 

"One of the cardiologists noticed that I was struggling to breath and told me I needed to have some tests," she added.

Those tests revealed that one of her heart valves needed to be repaired. 

"When I tell people that I've had heart surgery, they are surprised," Spainhower said. "But I tell everyone I can, especially young women, that they can have heart disease even though they're young."

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women. But only one in five women in America believes that heart disease is their greatest threat. Heart disease claims the life of one woman every minute.

Two years after her diagnosis, Spainhower underwent open heart surgery, where she went into cardiac arrest on the operating table. She survived, and five months after her surgery, Spainhower went on her first 100-mile cycling event.

"It was an amazing experience for me my family and my supporters to see me fulfilling my dreams," Sprainhower said.

Spainhower's Top 3 Tips to Ensure Heart Health:

1. Be your own advocate. No one else will do it for you. If you feel you have a concern, question or just aren't feeling quite right, go to the doctor. Also, never be afraid to get a second opinion.

2. Be aware of your body. Heart disease signs are often silent. Very few people have the signs of a heart attack.

3. Establish a primary care physician, especially young adults who are healthy and think they don't need one. Heart disease will not discriminate on age and you certainly cannot see it by looking at yourself in the mirror.

Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight or obese and a lack of physical activity put you at risk for heart disease and stroke.

To learn more about controlling risk factors and understanding the signs, visit the American Heart Association online, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/.

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