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West Virginians Focus on Heart Health in February

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Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the country and here in West Virginia. Many times doctors say women don't recognize the symptoms or ignore them because they're more focused on take care of the people around them.

About this time two years ago, Heidi Metheny knew something was wrong with her heart.

"It just felt like it was beating out of my chest," Metheny said, "and I knew that wasn't normal."

After putting it off for several months, Metheny finally talked to her doctor and discovered she was carrying a ticking time bomb in her chest.

"They found I had had an aortic dissection," Metheny said.

That causes blood to accumulate in the aorta.  In Metheny, it swelled to the size of a softball, able to rupture at any time. Even then, she was more concerned with her family than her own health.

"They were telling me you have to have surgery," Metheny said. "There is something seriously wrong with you, but in my mind I was like, 'But I need toilet paper. And paper towels. Can I go to Target first?'"

Metheny's condition really began a full two years before she had open heart surgery to correct it. At the time, a doctor attributed her symptoms to another reason.

Cardiologists say that's common, and means many people like Metheny go undiagnosed for years.

"Women often will present to their dentists or just complain about these jaw pains or neck pains or arm pains," said Dr. Bradley Warden, a cardiologist at the West Virginia University Heart Institute.

Metheny is a success story but many other West Virginia women are not.

"About 9 women die every day in West Virginia from heart disease and stroke," Dr. Warden said.

He pointed out the high prevalence of risk factors like smoking, obesity, and diabetes in West Virginia women.

West Virginia University's Extension Service develops campaigns every year to raise heart health awareness. This year that work goes even further with more than 100 trained community volunteers across the state.

"People are very likely to listen to somebody that's in your family or someone that works with you or neighbors down the street," said Elaine Bowen, the program coordinator.

In addition to community programs, the extension's "Love Your Heart" website is full of information about heart disease, suggestions on living heart-healthy, and ways to measure your risk.

"Don't ignore it," Metheny said. "Who's going to take care of your kids if you're gone?"

Screenings are also an important tool to help women see where they stand. On Saturday, February 8, the WVU Heart Institute is offering free screening from 8 .a.m..- 1 p.m.

Metheny said she'll be there, and screenings like these could have caught her heart problems much earlier.