Kimberly Montgomery is a poster child for heart health—literally. After surviving a heart attack in 2011—just weeks before her 50th birthday—two years later she was selected as one of 10 women to help the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign raise awareness about women and heart disease. When Kimberly was chosen as one of their volunteers, the women in her group—called ‘heart sisters”—touched every age group: two were in their 20s, three in their 30s, three in their 40s, and two in their 50s. Kimberly vividly recalls the day of her heart attack. “I had some jaw pain the night before, but I ignored it.
The next day, after attending a hot yoga class, I took a shower and was on my way to an event when I became very hot and began to sweat profusely. “ I reached back for some towels in my car and I started vomiting. I wasn’t far from a friend’s house, so I called to ask if I could come by and lie down for a while. When I arrived at her house she took one look at me and gave me an ultimatum—either she would call 911 for an ambulance or she would walk with me to an urgent care clinic in the neighborhood,” said Kimberly. Because she was so active and health conscious, Kimberly is the first to admit that she ignored all the warning signs, even though she knew that the symptoms of a heart attack for women sometimes differed from those typically associated with males.
She was in denial—with good reason—so she overlooked all the red flags. Kimberly associated the jaw pain she had the night before with gritting her teeth—something she had experienced more than 20 years before when she was pregnant. She dismissed her profuse sweating as a sign of early onset menopause, believing she was having her first hot flash, and she thought vomiting might be the result of food poisoning from her experience at a new restaurant opening the night before. Always energetic and an eternal optimist, Kimberly’s life included a regular physical exercise regimen. She watched her diet, took yoga classes, jogged about four miles a day during good weather and walked/jogged on a treadmill during inclement weather. She also engaged in various types of cardio exercise at least three times a week and participated in the City of Milwaukee’s wellness program. And, because she was doing all the right things, it never occurred to her that she was having a heart attack. In fact, even after the urgent care doctor informed her that she had had a heart attack, she was in disbelief. After speaking with a cardiologist and having two stents implanted for 75% blockage in one artery and 80% in another, Kimberly came to terms with the fact that she, indeed, had a heart attack.
Six weeks of cardiac rehabilitation helped her reclaim her life and vitality, but today—now 54 years old—she is still uncomfortable about her health, especially because her doctor has referred to her as an enigma. “I was doing all the right things to proactively take care of myself. My family has a history of high blood pressure, which I had been diagnosed with as well, so I was on medication for that. My cholesterol levels and my other screenings were always monitored and I was never in any danger. I was even told that because my numbers were so good, I had a 0.5% chance of having a heart attack within the next ten years and, yet, one year later I had one,” said Kimberly. After her heart attack, for six weeks, three times a week, Kimberly had to go through cardiac rehab. These days she says that she does not go anywhere without nitroglycerin and she is adamant about her cardio routine, which she starts each day with—something she committed to after cardiac rehab.
“After my heart attack I felt fine mentally, as if I could do all the things I had done before, but physically it was challenging for me to even walk a few blocks. During cardiac rehab they would check my blood pressure when I arrived and then I would get on exercise machines to help build up my physical endurance, with a nurse monitoring my blood pressure throughout the process. I also attended classes where they covered topics such as nutrition, stress and quality of life,” said Kimberly. Following her heart attack and armed with first-hand experience and knowledge, Kimberly was on a mission to educate other women about heart health and the symptoms of a heart attack. In 2013, she was encouraged to respond to a casting call by the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Go Red For Women Campaign that was seeking national volunteers. Kimberly was chosen to spread the word to women (and men) that heart disease doesn't discriminate.
Among her appearances and interviews as a volunteer for the Go Red For Women campaign, she was featured on Dr. Oz’s television show and in Ebony Magazine. Throughout the year, she and her ‘heart sisters’ shared their stories whenever and with whomever they could, as part of the AHA’s 10-year old national campaign to raise awareness about the number one killer of women in America—heart disease. Each year a new group of women is chosen for the Go Red For Women Campaign, which is recognized this year on February 7, where individuals are encouraged to wear red to raise awareness about the fight against heart disease in women. Since completing her year-long commitment with the GO RED campaign, Kimberly says that she and her heart sisters have remained connected because they became close during their campaign. Sadly, she shared that one of her heart sisters recently passed from heart disease. “My stint with Go Red is over, but my commitment to educating women, in particular, about heart disease is a lifelong mission for me.
Everywhere I go I preach to women to, first, educate themselves about the symptoms of heart disease; the signs are different from those usually associated with men. Secondly, listen to your body. We women know when something is not right. Third, YOU come first. Women have a tendency to put everyone and everything else first, but if you are not healthy, you can’t put anybody else first. And, finally, exercise. If you are not active, ask your doctor about starting some kind of physical, heart healthy activity, based on your current health. My parents in their 80s and they walk daily. Being physically active is important,” she said.