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MATTERSOFTHE HEART It's deadly, mysterious and far more common than you'd think.
Heart disease is the number one killer among women, yet only some women realize that.

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Maggie Ingram was fit and 46 when a heart attack struck.
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Date published: 2/12/2006

By DONYA ARIAS

As an overweight, chain-smoking, stressed-out single mom, Eileen Williams should have been expecting heart trouble. Her father died of a heart attack at age 56, and Williams was taking medication to control high blood pressure.

Yet when she felt an explosive pain on the right side of her neck as she sat down to breakfast one morning in 1997, Williams refused to believe she was having a heart attack.

"I should have known better, but I continued to talk myself out of it for the next 12 hours," said Williams, who at the time was assistant chief of emergency medical services for the Lake Jackson Volunteer Fire Department in Manassas, with specialized training as a cardiac technician. "I had not, at that point, taken charge of my own health care."

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women, yet only about half of them realize that fact, according to the American Heart Association. Even for those who recognize the importance of good heart health, many tend to be so busy taking care of families and relationships that they neglect their own health, women's health advocates say.

Take it from Shannon Schroeder. If Williams was the poster child for bad health behavior, "I was the poster child for 'If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone,'" said the 34-year-old Springfield mother of two.

Schroeder was physically fit, ate a healthy diet and did not smoke or have a family history of heart disease. Yet at age 31 and while pregnant with her second daughter, Schroeder started feeling the odd sensation of her heart racing. She would sweat and feel faint.

Chalking it up to strange pregnancy symptoms and not wanting to interrupt a family vacation, Schroeder waited a week before seeking medical help.

When she finally saw a doctor, Schroeder was diagnosed with a heart condition that could prove life-threatening without medication. And tests showed she had previously suffered a heart attack that damaged her heart muscle.

Cardiologists were on hand when Schroeder's daughter, Kyla, was born via Caesarean section--because traditional labor might have proven too much stress for her heart. A month later, doctors surgically implanted a defibrillator into Schroeder's chest to help regulate her heartbeat.


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