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Go Red for Women: Minding the Dash

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We are all given such a beautiful gift -- more valuable than any expensive item we could ever receive. This gift when viewed on a sheet of paper or in stone is so small but when viewed from the mind and hearts of others is so large. That gift is "the dash"! It represents the life we all have been given. We are all given a sunrise and a sunset date. It is the dash that represents the life in between. Waking up each morning not knowing when the sun will set for the final time is the mystery of the dash. I had to learn about the dash the hard way. It became ever so important to me after a catastrophic event.

I was the classic supermom/woman. I was a 37-year-old well-educated wife, mother, full-time corporate employee, U.S. Navy Reservist, cake business owner, active church member and active sorority member. There were not enough hours in the day for me to do all that was on my schedule, but yet I managed to fit it all in every day! Silly me. I truly felt I was invincible! That was before I cared about the dash. I was living without appreciating the gift.

But Wednesday November 7, 2007 6:30 p.m. was the day that changed for my life forever. For three weeks leading up to this day I had felt a pain in the left side of my neck that would come and go. It felt like I had a crook in my neck, and I thought I needed to buy new pillows. The day was typical; I went to work, came home and worked out. I put in a microwavable meal for dinner, I was excited I did not have to cook due to my husband leaving for an eight and a half month deployment to Afghanistan. Once I sat down to eat, I felt a sharp pain in my in the center of my chest. I thought to myself, 'Maybe I had pushed myself too hard during my workout.' I also thought maybe I was eating too quickly. Then again another sharp pain, it was more like the pain of a pulled muscle, not excruciating pain. My daughter (she was 14 at the time) was in the kitchen studying for an exam. I told her that I was not feeling well and that I was going upstairs to lie down. I told her to wake me in one hour. I am happy that she was always an obedient child. I suppose that is one good thing from my "drill sergeant" style of teaching that paid off. She sat the clock on the kitchen stove for one hour just in case she got too immersed in her studies.

I went up each stair trying to make it to my bedroom, it felt like a few miles journey just to pull 20 stairs. Once I made it to my bedroom I decided to take some of my husband's prescription strength Motrin and went to sleep. This is where again, not being aware of the gift of the dash, I just assumed that I would wake up. Tomorrow is not promised.

It felt like I had been asleep for days, but the reality is it had only been exactly one hour. My daughter came to wake me as I had asked. This is where everything is sort of a blur, but from what I have been told, my daughter was frightened by what she saw when she found me lying in the bed. I was drenched in sweat, I had lost most of my color, and I could barely speak. She knew something was terribly wrong. She called my sister who was stuck in evening traffic trying to get home. My sister had prior experience as a nurse's assistant, and when my daughter told her what was going on she instructed her to immediately dial 911.

Once the EMTs arrived, preliminary tests were run, and I was whisked to the nearest hospital. Once in the hospital, things seemed to get pretty crazy. A cardiologist arrived and explained I was having a heart attack, and he was going to try his best to save my life. I thought: my life! Did he just say try to save my life? Not me -- the superwoman, the invincible woman who was mentally and physically strong? Yes, that woman.

I was now being wheeled away to the catherization lab, in a hospital gown that I am sure was unflattering. I no longer was "well put together." I was no longer in charge. I was going to have to rely on God and medical professionals to save my life. This is where the small dash became so clear! I was not ready to die. I had so much more to give to others -- to life! I asked God if given another chance, I would be sure to take life more seriously and be more in tune with what my legacy would be. What others would say about my life (my dash) when I did finally leave this earth. I would be someone that made an impact on others for the better.

As you can see, I did live that night. I have another chance to really take in all that the dash has to offer. I now have a purpose in life. I was told that morning by the cardiologist when I awoke in ICU that two days prior, a pharmacist employed at the hospital, the same age as me, came into the ER suffering a heart attack, and she did not make it. This is when I was told about the seriousness of heart attack in women. More often than not, there are many women who do not live to see the sunrise the next day. There are many women who are not given a second chance to "get it right." This is where my purpose lies. I Go Red for Women whose dash has been closed with a sunset date. I Go Red for Women who need survivors like me to get the word out that Heart Attack is the No.1 killer of women. Almost every 60 seconds a woman dies from a heart attack. My dash is no longer small and miniscule, it is large and filled each and everyday with a purpose.

Now the hours of my day are filled with helping others. I also take better care of myself. My dash is so bold that when the sun does finally set for the last time others will say she gave her life to her purpose!!! Go Red for WOMEN!

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the American Heart Association in recognition of Wear Red Day, the aim of which is to raise awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. To read all the stories in the series, click here.

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