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Kimberly Hayes was only 58 when doctors told her she was beginning to experience heart failure.
In August 2019, the New York City-based consultant was busy preparing for an outdoor conference when she collapsed.
Just moments before, Hayes said she remembers becoming very hot and dizzy and made her way to a bench with the help of an onlooker.
“I was just kind of slumping down,” she said in an interview with TODAY.
Hayes was immediately taken by ambulance to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where cardiologists diagnosed her with fatty liver disease and the early stages of heart failure.
“I had never been hospitalized before,” she said. “It was coming full circle with the fact that my body was really shutting down.”
Although the diagnosis was unexpected, Hayes had been taking medication for high blood pressure since 2002 and had been managing diabetes since 2017. In hindsight, Hayes admitted she hadn’t exactly made her health a priority. Due to her busy schedule, there were days when she would forget to take her medication and go the entire day without eating.
“I’d look up at 8 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten anything. So, if I haven’t eaten, I can’t take the medication,” she explained. “It was also a combination of feeling like I don’t really need them and that medications can sometimes bring on other side effects.”
In Canada, heart disease is the no. 1 cause of death for women over 55. Although many people believe heart disease can occur later in life, almost 40 per cent of all women receive their diagnosis before the age of 65. In the United States, an estimated one in 16 women over the age of 20 have coronary heart disease, the most common form of heart disease caused by a narrowing or blocking blood vessels due to a build up of plaque on artery walls.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, heart disease refers to a group of conditions that can begin as early as childhood and slowly develop over time. While our risk of developing heart disease increases as we age, there are certain lifestyle habits that are particularly detrimental to heart health including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress, diabetes, depression and poor diet and lack of physical activity.
Hayes’s cardiologist, Dr. Icilma Fergus said it’s not uncommon for women to underestimate the seriousness of their health conditions.
“It’s very common. I think it’s just the matriarch and mother instinct,” Fergus explained to TODAY. “Both blood pressure and diabetes can be silent killers because you don’t feel pain and you may not see anything until it is too late.”
The signs and symptoms for heart attacks vary, and are often different for men and women. Emergency medical attention is required should you experience any chest discomfort, burning or heaviness, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea or discomfort in the upper body, neck, jaw, back and arms.
Since her hospitalization, Hayes has committed to prioritizing her health. She has been taking her medication daily, increased her physical activity and has incorporated a plant-based options into her diet. Hayes hopes that by sharing her story, she can encourage other women not to neglect their health, and not to put off making lifestyle changes that can potentially save their lives.
“I hope that that other women will hear the story and get inspired to get themselves checked out,” she said. "I really learned that you have to listen to your body. We cannot, as women, overwork ourselves.”