Looking through a batch of apples in the produce section at the grocery store, we can spend quite some time trying to detect a good apple from a bad one. Heck, after spending all that time carefully selecting the prettiest, shiniest, and healthiest looking apples from the bunch, we deserve a sweet reward for all of our hard work; however, looks can be deceiving, and sometimes when biting into the most perfect, untarnished looking apple of the lot, we can find an unexpected surprise when we bite into it and all we taste is a flavorless, dry piece of fruit. The same can apply to our health, in that, even though we may look good on the outside, what’s truly going on inside can be a completely different story, especially when it comes to heart disease.
“I was glad that you couldn’t tell that I had heart disease, especially when I was a teenager,” said Jamie Napolitano, a local Destrehan resident and heart transplant survivor who was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease, when she was only three months old. “However,” she continued, “that can be deceiving, because we tend to look in the mirror and say, ‘Well, I look ok, so I must be ok,’ but that’s not the case at all. I was dying and I didn’t realize how sick I was until after I had my new heart and I felt so good.”
Jamie, now a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement, knows all too well the importance of listening to her body when something doesn’t feel right. “It’s very important for me to speak up whenever I feel like there’s something wrong as far as my health is concerned. I know my body, especially now that I know what it feels like to be healthy.”
As women, listening to our bodies is very important, especially since heart disease is the number one killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer. It’s also important to notice when something isn’t right physically because the disease doesn’t affect all women alike, plus the warning signs for women aren’t the same as in men. Many of us automatically think that extreme chest pain is the most significant sign of a heart attack, when in reality women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain."
“The goal [of being a Go Red for Women national spokesperson] is to create awareness for women,” said Jamie. “One of the common things we say is, ‘know your numbers,’ and that includes knowing things like your blood pressure, your healthy body weight, and your cholesterol level. It [heart disease] doesn’t discriminate.” At the age of only 19, Jamie experienced a heart attack, and as time went on, her heart deteriorated. When she was 25, she had a defibrillator implanted; however, with her positive spirit in tow, she continued on despite her heart disease and even met her husband not long after her surgery.
Because of the stress that pregnancy could potentially put on her heart, Jamie was advised early on to never carry children. Nevertheless, through her younger sister’s compassionate offer to serve as a surrogate, she later became a mother, her sister having delivered twins. Once her twins approached their second birthday, though, Jamie’s state of health began to decline, which eventually led her to the hospital gravely ill, with the only option to saving her life being a heart transplant.
Jamie ended up having her heart transplant surgery the day after New Year’s Day, 2009. Even though that day each year marks a special turning point in Jamie’s life, it also serves as a day of remembrance for her donor. “It was the end to somebody else’s life, and we certainly do not ever forget that,” she said. “So even though our thoughts are of joy that day, they are also in remembrance and gratitude of the decision that my donor and his family made to donate.”
Jamie’s schedule today packs in many different roles and responsibilities, which includes teaching at two different part-time jobs, volunteering with the American Heart Association and the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, plus staying involved with her church. All of this on top of being a mother of twins, but Jamie still finds a way to incorporate exercise into her weekly routine. “Now that my children are in school, I find time to squeeze in at least 30 minutes of exercise whenever I can during the week,” she said.
With the multiple roles that women play in today’s world, Jamie believes it’s important to stress to them the importance of taking time out for themselves, despite their busy schedules. “Women are so stretched, but they are also very good at time management, being creative, and finding ways to fit things in. We find ways to fit in running errands for our kids, but,” she continued, “we kind of start losing that creativity and energy whenever it comes to ourselves.”
Jamie has even stretched herself to bump up her running endurance now that she can physically, having started first with doing 5Ks, then from there taking it to another level, having completed her first 10K, a few years ago. Then, last year, she took it up another notch, having completed her first half marathon, the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon, last March. “When I was younger, I was told not to do anything strenuous at all. So once I got my heart transplant,” she said, “I had so much more energy that I thought, ‘Well now that I can, I’m going to do this.’”
Now, Jamie is training for her second half marathon, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Half Marathon taking place in March. It stresses the question of where she draws her positivity and motivation from. “Growing up, my parents didn’t limit me and I felt that was very important,” she recalls. “My prognosis [as an infant] was so poor. They could have given up right then, but they didn’t. As a result, I didn’t feel there was anything that I couldn’t do growing up.”
It’s this very positivity that Jamie brings with her in her message to other women as a Go Red for Women national spokesperson. And with February being Heart Awareness Month, one way to help support the American Heart Association of New Orleans, she stresses, is attending this month’s Go Red for Women Luncheon, an event that not only helps raise money for the organization, but also helps to inform and educate women about heart disease. “The proceeds are going to things like research, new medications, and other things that helped save my life,” said Jamie. As further explained by this year’s Go Red for Women Luncheon chair, Kathleen Robert, “Local donations are very helpful in the sense that the money that is given to your local American Heart Association actually stays local.”
The event, being held on Friday, February 22, at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, will feature free health screenings and seminars, plus a silent auction from 10-11:30 a.m. At 11:30 am the luncheon will start with “Passion Speakers” sharing their stories about how heart disease has affected their lives, followed by a fashion show. Aside from this year’s luncheon and all the great activities planned around the event, the local Go Red for Women chapter is also trying to spread the word about Circle of Red, a grassroots organization that local women (and men) can join via a financial and personal commitment, with the goal to educate other women about heart disease.
To learn more about Circle of Red, to make a donation to the local American Heart Association, or to purchase tickets for this year’s Go Red for Women Luncheon, click here. Tickets for the luncheon are $100 per ticket and single tickets can be purchased up until February 21. For more information about the Greater New Orleans chapter of Go Red for Women, please contact Rebecca Habermann, Go Red for Women Director, at (334) 462-2230.