PORTLAND — Nicole Hardy of Scarborough lost her father to a heart attack when he was 28.
Yet Hardy, who spoke Feb. 3 at Portland City Hall on National Go Red Day, was never considered truly at risk for heart disease.
“People would always tell me that I was lucky because women didn’t have heart attacks,” she said as she helped launch the annual event to promote women’s cardiovascular health.
Brenda Vitali, spokeswoman for the state chapter of the American Heart Association, said the 14th Go Red event highlights the fact that heart disease is now the No. 1 killer of women, causing one in three deaths.
February is American Heart Month, but events to promote healthy living and cardiovascular health continue throughout the winter and spring and can be found at http://bit.ly/2lc5UkI.
Even as Hardy, 46, began to feel pains in her chest and shortness of breath four years ago, she passed it off as too few trips to the gym and too much time spent tending to the needs of others, including her family.
Hardy said she took up bicycling with her two daughters, but it was during a ride alone that her heart problems became too significant to ignore. After struggling to get up a hill and get home, she said, “I literally thought my heart was in my throat.”
Hardy sought medical help and learned she would need an aortic valve replacement. After seeking a second opinion it was discovered that two coronary arteries were almost completely blocked.
What followed were two major surgeries in three weeks, and Hardy’s determination to share her story and save other women.
“Trust your gut and don’t minimize your symptoms,” she said during a press conference that also featured remarks from Mayor Ethan Strimling, Dr. Jeff Sedlack from Harvard Pilgrim of Maine, and Dr. Jennifer Monti of Maine Health and Maine Medical Center.
Sedlack said he recalled when heart surgeries on women were very rare, but added the increased attention to symptoms and overall health could save as many as 293 lives daily in the U.S.
Monti now travels the state, advocating for better care in rural areas while seeking input on how she and her colleagues can better serve patients.
“I want to hear one thing from everyone in this room about what we could do differently,” she said.
Following the remarks, Portland Assistant Fire Chief Keith Gautreau and firefighter/paramedic Terri McGuire demonstrated hands-on CPR. He considers chest compression the most effective way to immediately treat heart attack victims.
City emergency responders were called out more than 12,000 times last year, including 49 cardiac arrest calls. Chest compression techniques led to 30 victim resuscitations that did not require an immediate trip to the hospital, Gautreau said.
Nicole Hardy of Scarborough talks about her heart problems Feb. 3 at Portland City Hall. She was not considered at risk for heart disease, but needed two major surgeries within three weeks in 2013.
Falmouth resident Catherine Desrochers, left, practices chest compression techniques with the help of Portland firefighter/paramedic Terri McGuire Feb. 3 at the National Go Red Day event at City Hall.