By An Peng
BU News Service
BOSTON — Scarlett O’Hanlon is an 8-year-old girl from North Attleboro who loves playing soccer. When she runs on the soccer field, she looks no different than other kids her age, so one could probably never think about how sick her heart really is. She is a congenital heart defect survivor.
As part of American Heart Month, Statehouse lawmakers brought attention to heart diseases, as an effort to support the American Heart Association’s signature initiative Go Red for Women. Local delegations echoed the name of the campaign by wearing red suits, dresses and ties on Feb. 13.
“Cardiovascular disease continues to be the women’s greatest health threat, [taking] the lives of one in three women — that’s a third of our mothers, our sisters, our friends, our colleagues, and it’s time to change that fact,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland.
Cardiovascular disease kills one person about every 80 seconds, according to Spilka, and heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Prior to the Go Red for Women events, only 30 percent of women knew that heart disease was their greatest threat. A decade later, almost 60 percent of women recognized this fact, resulting in a 90-percent-increase of awareness.
Scarlett was born with a special heart defect that allows no blood flow from the heart to lungs, according to Rep. Elizabeth A. Poirier, R-North Attleboro.
Scarlett had open-heart surgery on the day she was born, and will need continued intervention and treatment for the rest of her life. Her family began fundraising and advocating for heart disease shortly after bringing Scarlett home.
Her mother, Jamie McHoul-O’Hanlon, decided to start a non-profit group named Sisters@Heart along with two other North Attleboro residents.
“When you have a child with heart disease, you realized quickly that you’ve joined the club of other parents all dealing with the same reality,” O’Hanlon said, adding this organization aims to improve the lives of those affected by heart disease and stroke by funding research projects and providing financial assistance to families in need.
“It is my life’s mission to make sure this little girl gets to live a very very long time, and that children born every single day like Scarlett have the same opportunity,” O’Hanlon said.
Spilka said by now 80 percent the part of cardiovascular disease can be prevented, and more than 50 percent of women became aware of that fact. Two critical resolutions that Spilka mentioned are daily physical activities and healthy eating.
Dr. Umber Shakur, a cardiologist from Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, also shared his suggestions of lowering the risk of heart disease.
“It’s time to be demanding when it comes to women’s heart health, and to ask others to do the same. This is something that we all need to be aware of here in the Statehouse … my plan is I go take the stairs,” Spilka said and pointed to the Grand Staircase behind her.