Committing to heart-healthy change

PIQUA — “Go Red” returned to the northern Miami Valley again, working to inspire women to take care of their cardiovascular health as part of the annual “Go Red Goes North” campaign.

The heart-healthy luncheon and wellness expo raised approximately $4,000 to benefit local efforts to fight heart disease last year, and “Go Red Goes North” was looking to top itself this year.

The event brought back radio talk show host Nancy Wilson of K99.1FM along with survivors of heart-related illnesses with the hope of inspiring women to put their health first and be everyday heroes in their lives.

“Why ‘Go Red’?” Wilson said. “For those people who are your ‘why.’” Wilson and others took turns saying who was their “why,” the loved ones and people they care about.

“My mom and dad are both gone,” Wilson said, adding that her parents passed away due to heart-related issues. “The Go Red movement is important to me.”

According to Wilson, 90 percent of all women have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Wilson provided a couple examples, including smoking, an unhealthy diet, and weight gain.

“One woman dies from heart disease every minute,” Wilson said. “We can’t ignore these statistics any longer.”

The luncheon also showed the attendees an easy way to remember what to do if someone has a heart attack or similar type of heart episode. After calling 9-1-1, people should perform chest compressions on the victim at a pace of about 100 beats per minute, which also happens to be the rhythm of the popular 1977 Bee Gees’ song “Stayin’ Alive.”

After playing a video going over those steps about how to perform CPR chest compressions, Wilson added that it is now a graduation requirement in Ohio for high school students to know CPR.

In transitioning to the next speaker, Wilson encouraged women to listen to themselves and their instincts along with what messages their bodies may be trying to tell them in case there is something medically wrong.

Stephanie Kiser, a nurse, recounted the time she experienced a heart issue where her instincts told her to get herself checked out by a doctor. It was in the middle of a busy day when she experienced a sharp pain in her chest. Her husband called 9-1-1, and even though the pain went away by the time the paramedics arrived, they still decided to go to the hospital. It was then that they learned that she had 80 percent blockage around her heart.

“I might not be here,” she said. “My blockage would have continued to get worse.”

Kiser said that she had been experiencing early symptoms, including fatigue, tension headaches, back pain, and so on, but she ignored them, believing them simply to be related to growing pains with entering her 50s.

“It is important to listen to those early symptoms,” Kiser said.

The experience inspired her to start exercising more regularly and eating healthier, which has caused those symptoms to go away.

“It takes practice changing lifestyle habits,” Kiser said.

President Doreen Larson of Edison State Community College then encouraged the crowd to donate to the “Go Red” effort to help fight heart disease.

“My ‘why’ is my husband,” Larson said. She explained that her husband is one of nine siblings, four of whom did not live past their 50s due to heart-related illnesses.

“He has bad genes,” Larson said. Her husband has been proactive, though, which has led him to live a life free of cardiovascular disease.

“It is a preventable disease,” she added.

The keynote speaker Julie Wilkes spoke about her experience being born with a heart defect, one that was so severe, she was pronounced dead when she was born.

“If you could see what I see, you would be overwhelmed and a little emotional,” Wilkes said at the amount of attendees in what she called a “sea of red.”

Wilkes had the attendees do a little bit of exercise, asking everyone to stand up and sit eight times.

“Why would I have you do that?” Wilkes asked. “Sitting is now called the new smoking.”

Actions like that little amount of exercise were part of Wilkes’ encouragement to do small actions to better their lives.

“It’s the small things we do,” Wilkes said.

Wilkes dove into talking about her experience with heart disease, explaining about how her mother had a severe allergic reaction to poison ivy while she was pregnant with Wilkes, causing the allergic reaction to attack Wilkes’ unborn body and the umbilical cord keeping her alive.

“It attacked the fetus,” she said. Doctors told Wilkes’ mother to “be prepared for the worst.”

After her mother carried her for 10 months, doctors decided to perform a C-section.

“I was born with a heart defect so severe that the doctors actually pronounced me dead at birth,” Wilkes said.

Wilkes was born with no heart beat, she was gray-colored, and she was not crying. After attempting to resuscitate Wilkes for nine minutes, the doctors handed Wilkes’ body to her mother.

“When they brought me to my mother, I started to cry,” Wilkes said. “My mother’s presence is what willed my heart to beat.”

Wilkes continued to overcome obstacles her doctors warned her and her family about. When she was a toddler, they learned that the parts of Wilkes’ heart that were working correctly were overcompensating for the parts of her heart that were not. The doctors told them that Wilkes may not live to be a teenager.

Growing up with the knowledge that she did not have a lot of time to live and do everything that she wanted inspired Wilkes not to take the time she did have for granted.

“I don’t put things off,” Wilkes said, adding that she would not go to bed angry at her parents. “It was a really interesting way to grow up.”

Later, when Wilkes started going to school, a gym teacher named Larry Larson inspired Wilkes to start exercising, even though doctors and her family thought that it might put a strain and overexert her heart.

They gym teacher told Wilkes that her heart was a muscle and “if you use it, you can strengthen it.”

After that, Wilkes began jogging. Doctors then found Wilkes’ heart healing itself. Wilkes got a second chance at life.

With that second chance, Wilkes was able to use the story of her life to inspire others to take care of their hearts. In her time, Wilkes has become an author, a motivational speaker, and a business owner running her own yoga studio.

In addition to motivating people to take care of their hearts, Wilkes encouraged the attendees at the luncheon to “put your best into something,” even it appeared like a small, simple action.

“Believe what you do matters,” Wilkes said. “Start small, but do something every day.”

For more information or to donate to the American Heart Association, visit or

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Mike Ullery | Daily Call Dr. Doreen Larson, of Edison Community College discusses dealing with family heart-related issues during Thursday’s Go Red Goes North event at the Fort Piqua Plaza. Ullery | Daily Call Dr. Doreen Larson, of Edison Community College discusses dealing with family heart-related issues during Thursday’s Go Red Goes North event at the Fort Piqua Plaza.
Annual ‘Go Red’ fundraiser returns to fight heart disease

By Sam Wildow

Reach Sam Wildow at or (937) 451-3336