By Kathleen Quilligan - email@example.com, (219) 662-5331
CROWN POINT | As children are taught not to judge a book by its cover, Deb Pillarella, a heart disease survivor, urged people not to judge their heart health by their outside appearance.
"Look beyond what you see externally," she said.
Pillarella had been a fitness model, the author of a fitness book and even once shared the stage with fitness guru Richard Simmons. But she told the 200 or so people at the Crown Point Goes Red luncheon Friday afternoon that in the 1990s she began to feel the symptoms that the American Heart Association now warns are key indicators of heart issues: nausea, tingling and a rapid heart rate. As she pursued a diagnosis, she eventually discovered that there was a hole in her heart and she would have to undergo open heart surgery.
"For 34 years, no one knew," she said.
Pillarella was the keynote speaker at the luncheon at White Hawk Country Club that celebrated the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women initiative, which works to inform women about symptoms specific to women that indicate heart problems.
Each speaker at the lunch to help raise money to research the diseases had their own story to tell about heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women.
Tony Jones, a vice president with Methodist Hospitals, said he received a call from a friend Friday who had been diagnosed with heart disease and was asking for advice. Katie Uran, the Crown Point Goes Red chairwoman, told attendees she lost her mother-in-law after multiple strokes. David Ruskowski, president of St. Anthony Medical Center, described the birth of his grandson, where doctors immediately discovered a congenital cardiovascular defect, and were able to repair it.
Each speaker told attendees that everyone in the room had been affected by heart disease, and for Pat Hescher, of Crown Point, that was true. She lost her son, who was 51, about 10 months ago to a heart attack.
"Take what we say seriously," said T.J. Pruzin, of Crown Point, who lost his mother to a heart attack, "because it could save your life."