Northland women win one for their heartsSeven Northland women who grappled with a killer for eight weeks shared their success on Wednesday.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Seven Northland women who grappled with a killer for eight weeks shared their success on Wednesday.
The killer is heart disease, and the women participated in the Go Red for Women Challenge, the American Heart Associations’ effort to help them change lifestyles and produce healthier hearts.
The women — Deb Smith, Stacey Askelson, Tina Nummi, Krista Pedersen, Marcia Olson, Chevon Gallagher and Jodi O’Connor — were honored as part of the Northland Go Red For Women luncheon on Wednesday at the Greysolon Ballroom. More than 300 women attended the annual event.
The message: It’s easier to achieve a healthier heart when you get some help.
“Heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death for women here in the Twin Port and around the country,” said Dr. Mary Boylan of St. Luke’s Regional Heart Center, chairwoman of the event. “Every woman can make a difference today, and that’s by finding out your numbers and choosing to eat an apple instead of ice cream, choosing to walk instead of taking an elevator. … It’s not easy, but the Heart Association is here to help people.”
Smith, 53, saw the toll heart disease can take even during the two months she was part of the program. During that time, three people she knows through her job at Black Bear Casino were affected by heart episodes, two of them fatally.
It hit even closer to home for Smith, whose mother had heart surgery within the past year. “It was a wakeup call for me to take action,” Smith said. “I thought: I’ll give it a shot.”
Family history also was a factor for Askelson, 42. Her mother died of heart disease at age 56, Askelson said. Her mother’s sister died of a heart attack the day she picked up the application for the Go Red Challenge. “So it was: Here’s your sign,” she said. “I applied.”
The challenge began Jan. 9. The women met with health advisers from St. Luke’s and Essentia Health. Each was given a health assessment and an assessment of personal risk factors. Each set a goal for what they wanted to achieve over eight weeks. They were helped along the way by dietitians from the hospitals and trainers made available by local fitness centers.
In a conversation just before Wednesday’s luncheon, four of the women said they were enthused by the results.
Pedersen, 40, who had lost 50 pounds before the program, took off another 17 pounds during the eight weeks. Askelson lost 15 pounds and her cholesterol dropped by 40 points. Nummi, 43, lost 37 pounds and saw her cholesterol drop from 338 to 167 — the difference between significantly high and desirable, according to the American Heart Association.
A key number for Smith was 70: The members of a Facebook group “that I chat with about my journey, about my lifestyle change.”
Adapting a low-sodium diet has been a key for Askelson, and her husband has embraced the change as well, she said. “If you’re dedicated to the diet, you’re going to eat healthy,” she said. “You’re going to eat fresh. … Nothing processed.”
The search for low-sodium foods can make grocery shopping a challenge.
“My family won’t go to the grocery store with me,” said Nummi, who is married with two daughters, 11 and 13. “It takes you triple the amount of time that it used to. You have to read everything.”
The extra effort to live a heart-healthy lifestyle pays off, Boylan said.
“It takes a little time, but it’s a lot less than bearing the burden of high blood pressure and diabetes and any trip to the hospital,” she said.
The result, Boylan said: “They feel better. They feel great.”
Askelson agreed. “It changes everything: my clothing sizes, my energy level,” she said. “It’s amazing.”