February – A Month for Hearts and Health

Answering my cell phone while driving home, I could not or rather I would not accept what I heard my sister, Susan, saying to me concerning my eldest sister, Gail.  I kept hearing her repeat to me that “Gail had died!”  Did she say Gail?  No, not Gail!  I must not be hearing her right or I must be completely misunderstanding her…but she just kept saying it over and over again despite my protests. 

I was frozen in shocked disbelief and could not react to what she was telling me. 

We had all expected my Daddy to pass away first as he had been sick for so long, but no, no, no…not my sister…not my dear sister that I had always depended on to be my backbone whenever I needed added support, who was always my sounding board, whose call I always expected about the time the cock crowed on Saturday mornings asking me in her early morning gravelly voice, “Hey!  Are you up?” Gail, who was so funny, but really didn’t know it; who was so beautiful and who was our very own Mobile Azalea Trail Maid, being compared so many times to Elizabeth Taylor and Lucille Ball.

Gail who could sing like a songbird, and play the piano and organ with such gusto that I was often surprised there were any piano keys left after one of her resounding gospel renditions.  Gail, who always drove the cool cars—mainly the latest Mustang or T-Bird—who could arrange flowers like a florist and decorate impressively like an interior decorator. Gail, the only one of the four daughters that my parents would really listen to about anything, and who was always seen smartly dressed in designer suits sporting boxy shoulder pads, matching heels and jewelry, full make-up, with her hair always coiffed when headed off to work—she was the life of a party and always filled up the room with her dramatic, take charge, but sparkling personality.  Whenever Gail spoke—everyone listened. 

No…not Gail! Susan couldn’t be right!  

Finally, allowing the reality to sink in of what Susan was saying to me, my blinding tears started pouring while my body racked in uncontrollable sobs, as my young teenage daughter sitting next to me in the car did not understand what was happening, but knew it was nothing good. My life has never been the same since her death.

We soon learned that a massive coronary took Gail from us on that day, December 4, 2001, after she had just celebrated her 55th birthday a week earlier. It was her first and only known heart attack.  My family did not know she was even sick, and neither did she.  She was a long time smoker and paid the ultimate price for the insidious heart disease brought on by that habit.  Hindsight is always 20/20, and we now realize there were signs of her illness that were just overlooked, ignored, and, of which, no one ever related to a heart condition—that is—until she died.

She possibly would still be alive today had she been properly diagnosed and treated, but she wasn’t.

Cardiovascular Disease Awareness

You are asking yourself why I have shared this sad story for my February newsletter article. February, a month reserved for all things relating to love, cupids and delicious chocolates displayed in beautiful red velvet heart shaped boxes to be given to your special Valentine—is also the month for “Heart Disease Awareness.”  The fact is that cardiovascular disease is the Number 1 killer of women!  The American Heart Association states:

  • Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute.
  • 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
  • Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen.
  • The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood.
  • While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.

Check out https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts and https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm 

It has been almost 19 years since my sister passed away, and in some respects it seems as though it was just yesterday.  My hope is that Gail’s tragic story will be a loud warning to all of us concerning the rampant risk of heart disease, by educating yourselves on the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease and taking positive steps to prevent it.  Let February not only be a month about heart shaped Valentines, but about loving your family and yourself enough to ensure the health of a “real heart” that truly matters—your own!

Katrina Cheema