DRACUT — On her lapel, Linda Colburn wears a small pin shaped like a flowing red dress, which symbolizes a push by the American Heart Association to encourage women to learn more about heart disease.
The 58-year-old Dracut resident knows firsthand about heart disease. In June, after a month of excruciating heartburn, Colburn went to the hospital on the advice of her doctor.
“I woke up that morning at 4 a.m. extremely uncomfortable,” she said during an interview on Jan. 31. “By the end of the day they were giving me an EKG (electrocardiogram) and put me on medication.”
Hospital staff gave her nitroglycerin and contacted cardiologist Omar Ali. Tests indicated a blocked artery near the heart, so Ali recommended angioplasty and a stent placement to prop the artery open. Colburn was told she had a heart attack. The artery was 99 percent blocked, caused by a buildup of plaque. She was awake for the procedure.
“It was like an out-of-body experience and I was watching everything from above,” said Colburn, who is the assistant principal at the Rogers Middle School in Lowell. “I couldn’t believe what was going on. It was just heartburn.”
She was home three days later and spent the rest of the summer undergoing rehabilitation.
“I can’t say enough good things about Lowell General Hospital. Every single person there was kind and friendly and helpful,” she said. “Encouraging.”
Two more stents were put in by Ali during a subsequent procedure that took place at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington. She is now extremely conscious of what goes into her body.
Colburn, who with her husband Gifford have a son and two grandchildren, was approached by the American Heart Association, which asked if she would be one of the faces for the “Go Red For Women” heart promotion. Lowell General Hospital, which is the exclusive health-care sponsor for the campaign, is offering special programs that provide information and promote heart-healthy lifestyles throughout February, which is American Heart Month. The campaign, which runs throughout the year in conjunction with the AHA, strives to raise awareness of heart disease while empowering women — and men — with the tools needed to prevent and reduce the risks.
“I figured, why not?” Colburn said with a slight chuckle. “I’m very thankful that I feel fine. And it’s had a positive effect on my two sisters, my brother, my mother, my husband and my son. My brother has diabetes and he’s a high risk for heart disease. My husband and I are over 55 and anybody over 55 is considered high risk. If I can help in some little way, I’m happy to do it.”
Lowell General currently has four Go Red Gallery panels that are 6 feet high and rest on a portable stand. The women on the panels are encouraged to tell their stories in the hope that others would learn more about the steps they can take to prevent heart disease.
Businesses and community organizations are invited to have the gallery on display at their locations to help promote heart health and spread the word. More information is available at www.goredforwomen.org.
“I’m happy how things turned out for me, but it could have been a lot different,” Colburn says. “It’s amazing for me to know that heart disease is the number-one killer of women.”
Colburn’s father died of a heart attack in 1960 at the age of 37. She says her family was acutely aware of heart disease, but they were all relatively healthy and “it was on the back burner.” She has learned that heart attacks are different for men and women. Women are more likely to have neck and shoulder pain, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and shortness of breath in addition to chest pain. Silent heart attacks are more common in women.
“It’s not that crushing pain in the chest that a man has when he has a heart attack,” Colburn said, who now considers herself a “walking advertisement for heart-disease prevention.”
Her message is simple.
“Listen to your body and don’t take things lightly. Don’t put off checking with a doctor if you have a little pain, especially in your chest. Go immediately,” she said. “Women have a tendency to minimize their pain. We’re tough like that, but it’s dangerous.”