Hundreds of women…and some men donned their best red outfits Thursday for the 13th annual Go Red for Women Luncheon at the Oncenter. A 12-year-old Syracuse girl was among those who helped raise awareness of heart disease among women.
When Maria DeCaro was nine, she took part in a Syracuse University study to determine the affects of lead in children. When doctors conducted a baseline sonogram of her heart, they discovered she had a rare heart condition called anomylous left coronary artery. The congenital defect essentially means she had a heart attack in utero due to a lack of oxygen.
"When I first learned I had a heart condition, I was so scared and overwhelmed," DeCaro recalled. "But then the doctor started to explain I was going to get through this. They told me I was not allowed to do sports anymore, certain things other kids are allowed to do."
DeCaro told part of her story in a video at the luncheon.
"A lot of things were going through my head. 'What does this mean? What am I supposed to do?'
Since her diagnosis, she says she’s also had to take her dancing down a level. But DeCaro is focused on what she can do, which includes pageantry.
"I've used heart as my platform, and I've done so many things with it," DeCaro said. " I'm getting to promote my heart condition, and doing something now that I still love to do."
She wants women to realize that not just older people can have heart trouble. But much of the message at the luncheon was aimed at reminding adults that heart disease is the number one killer of women. St. Joseph’s cardiologist Dr. Uzma Iqbal says they can never do enough to raise awareness of the risk factors.
"I call it a lifestyle disease," Iqbal said. "The more risk factors you accumulate...high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, lack of exercise, smoking. The only thing is that women tend to ignore taking care of these risk factors. So, they develop heart disease later in life, and it's at a point where they haven't been taking care of those risk factors."
Iqbal says stress is another consideration.
"Most women are caregivers at every stage in their life," Iqbal said. "Caregiving is a big stressor. Whether it's your kids, your husband, or your parents, women are responsible for taking care of people, and they sort of forget about their own health."
The doctor says stress management and relaxation are essential to allowing women to take care of themselves.
The Go Red for Women luncehon raised more than $340,000 for research, training, and community education about heart disease and stroke.