Before noon on Friday, February 28, the Omni Dallas Hotel’s Trinity Ballroom lobby was filled with women in red. In the crowd was a blonde in a red dress with v-neckline displaying a vertical scar extending from her collar bone south. It belonged to American Heart Association Dallas VP Meredith O’Neal, who was a living testament to the good accomplished by funds raised at the American Heart Association of Dallas’ annual Go Red For Women Luncheon. After all she had gone through in the past couple of years, she claimed that she was nervous today. That was because she would be standing in front of the ballroom full of guest as the Open Your Heart survivor.
But before she would face that moment, the crowd was growing in the VIP reception for the day’s speaker Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, Women’s Heart Health at the Heart and Vascular Institute in New York City. Former Atlanta TV reporter Heather Hooper was at the luncheon. Like Meredith, she was a wife and was wearing a red dress that showed her lifesaving scar.
Comparing notes, survivor Mary Parker stressed that women are known for having different symptoms than men when it comes to heart disease. She recalled being nauseous, a pain in her upper shoulder, feeling clammy and having a sense of doom. When she was rolled into Presbyterian’s ER, she was having a full-blown heart attack.
On the other hand, Mary’s pal Nancy Gopez had totally different symptoms. While visiting with her parents, she felt a shortness of breath and a pain in her back. Thanks to Mary’s emphasizing the various signs of a heart attack, she went to the emergency room. That action saved her life.
At 11:30 the doors to the ballroom opened and guests like Sandi and Ron Haddock, Barbara and Stan Levenson, AHA CEO Nancy Brown, former AHA President Dr. John Warner and Scott Pharr with Lynne Duncan started trickling in with DJ Lucy Wrubel providing the entry music.
To get things off with a bang, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performed on stage and were followed by Luncheon Chair Judy Hendrick welcoming the guests and Texas Health Resources cardiologist Dr. Kami Banks and internist Dr. Helen Hobbs, who introduced Trinity Industries and Arcosa CEO Tim Wallace and his associates (Mary Henderson, Gail Peck, Dani Barrows and Melendy Lovett) to receive the Sandi Haddock Community Impact Award. For more than a decade they have provided more than $7M for AHA.
Following the presentation, Meredith walked on stage and told how when she was preparing for the birth of her son Geoffrey O’Neal in 2018, she suffered an aortic dissection. That condition had been faced by five members of her family including her mother Margaret Ford. Thanks to the talents of the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, her life was saved and Geoffrey was born. As the Open Your Heart call for cash got underway, Meredith was joined on stage by Geoffrey, her husband, Kyle O’Neal and her parents, Margaret and Gary Ford. Thanks to Meredith’s inspiring talk, nearly $270,000 worth of paddles were raised.
Suzanne then addressed the group just before 1 p.m., reporting that her ah-ha moment came when a woman was wheeled in with unusual signs for a heart attack. It was at that time that she began speaking up and focused her work on heart disease in women. One of her discoveries was that since 1984, more women were dying from heart disease than men. Before that time no record had been kept.
While she stressed that it’s not a men vs. women issue, she reported that
- many times when women went to the ER with suspected heart disease, they had a longer wait to receive attention.
- too often men were diagnosed with heart attacks, while women were home suffering from anxiety.
- a woman dies every 80 seconds due to heart disease.
- more women die from heart disease than breast cancer.
She stressed that “We have to keep on keeping on” to get the message out.