My Heart Health Story: Emily Straley

February is American Heart Month. Since 2004 – together with our customers and colleagues – Macy’s has given more than $69 million to support the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women and the fight for women’s heart health. This year, we will team up once again to raise awareness about the importance of physical activity to women’s overall health, and to provide easy, accessible tools and resources to inspire women to get active.

As a national supporter of Go Red for Women, Macy’s is sharing the stories of three colleagues whose battles with heart disease illustrate the importance of the Go Red for Women movement. Our first story comes from a colleague in Lawrence Township, New Jersey.

Emily Straley, Macy’s Backstage Quakerbridge | Lawrence Township, NJ

As a newborn, you’re supposed to eat, cry and sleep – and repeat the cycle again. That wasn't the case for me. When I was four days old, the doctors discovered that I have a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot, which quickly became the center of my very young life.

Tetralogy of Fallot is when the heart is formed with four defects: partial obstruction of the right ventricle, aortic valve malformation, ventricular septal defect (VSD) and a thickened right ventricle. In addition, I was born with pulmonary stenosis and extra collateral arteries. This heart defect caused to my skin to turn a bluish color due to a lack of oxygen in my blood. When the doctors made this discovery, I was transported immediately to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where I had my first cardiac catheterization. Three months later, in December 1993, I had my first open heart surgery.

Growing up was different for me. Due to modified gym class, I was bullied for not being able to keep up with some of the more athletic students, and my friends couldn’t truly understand what I was going through. My friends were able to play contact sports like softball and soccer; I wasn't allowed to – so I danced. Dance has been a part of my life since I was three years old. It has allowed me to be more confident, meet new friends and give me the exercise I need in a way my heart can handle.

Since my early days, I’ve had many cardiac catheterizations. I usually have a procedure every five to six years to see if everything is working properly and to gauge how long it will be until my next major surgery. Currently, I have 12 pieces of metal in my heart, including clips, coils and stents to keep my heart functioning properly.

When I was younger, I used to be afraid of going through a cardiac catheterization. As I matured, I learned to prepare for them mentally and physically whether it would be going on a walk the night before or listening to music on the car ride to the hospital that morning. The catheterizations have never been my favorite part of growing up with a heart defect but now that they are routinely done, I know what to expect and always think of the positive outcome.

At 25 years old, knowing that I still must go through more catheterizations and at least one more major surgery in 10 to 15 years is difficult. I try not to think about them and instead live my life as fully as possible. Knowing this, I try to eat healthy and get as much exercise as I can so that when it comes time for my next procedure or surgery, I'm in shape and ready to face it head-on. Working at Macy’s helps me achieve the AHA’s suggested daily goal of 10,000 steps.

Life expectancy if this defect is not corrected is two years old. If not for the technology and the doctors, I wouldn’t have survived. The upside to knowing I’ll need procedures in the future is that medicine and technology have advanced and evolved significantly since my first surgery, and new improvements are being made every day. And the support of my family and friends, especially the friends I have met with similar heart stories, have all become an amazing support system to give me encouragement and help me with any of my heart needs.

Each year, AHA hosts an event known as the Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection, where designers, models and celebrities show their support for women’s heart health during New York Fashion Week.

Emily was selected to walk in this year’s show. Check out her modeling debut:

 

What You Need to Know about Heart Health

  • Physical activity reduces women’s overall risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • The American Heart Association and Federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adult women get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (or an equivalent combination) per week AND perform muscle strengthening activities at least two days per week.
  • In the United States, only one in five women are getting the recommended amount of physical activity (both aerobic and strength training) under federal guidelines.

 

Join us by rounding up your in-store purchase to the nearest dollar (up to $.99), donating your change to Go Red for Women.

 

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