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Doctors to Rosary teens: Act now for healthy hearts

Cindy Rulheart attack survivor tells how her attack affected her family during heart health talk Rosary High School students AurorMonday

Cindy Ruland, a heart attack survivor, tells how her attack affected her family during a heart health talk to Rosary High School students in Aurora on Monday, February 25, 2013. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 28, 2013 6:12AM

AURORA — Rush-Copley Women’s Heart Center medical director Dr. Santosh Gill had a heart-to-heart talk with the girls at Rosary High School this week.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States,” she said.

Gill spoke at an all-school assembly to educate the girls about the importance of developing healthy-heart lifestyles as teenagers — good eating habits and regular exercise — to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease later in life.

The interventional cardiologist said it was her goal, too, to empower the young women as partners in spreading the message.

Gill began with a brief explanation of how the heart is the center of the cardiovascular system that pumps blood through the body’s blood vessels to all of the body’s cells.

She said cardiovascular disease occurs when plaque builds inside coronary arteries — a result of a combination of inflammation, cholesterol and calcium deposits. Arteriosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries, she said.

“Even though most of us in this room do not have mature arteriosclerotic plaque, most of us have the start of inflammation and that is the reason we are here,” she told the students at the all-girls Catholic high school.

She said the progression of cardiovascular disease can be prevented if young people begin leading heart-healthy lives

Rush-Copley cardiologist Dr. Mamata Alwarshetty said there are certain risk factors associated with heart disease people cannot change, including age and genetics.

She said the risk factors that can be changed have to do mostly with lifestyle, smoking, physical inactivity and obesity. The risk factors that can be recognized and treated early are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, she said.

Alwarshetty said exercise reduces the risks of heart disease tremendously and teens should follow a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein, as well as low-fat milk products for healthy bone growth.

The students watched an educational video of a frazzled mother showing how women ignore the symptoms of a heart attack, which includes uncomfortable pressure in the chest, discomfort in one or both arms, neck or jaw, nausea and lightheadedness, because they put their families first or mistaken the warnings for something else.

Cindy Reuland, a mother of two Rosary graduates and a heart attack survivor shared her story.

“I met the No. 1 killer of women up-close and personally,” she told the students.

Reuland said 14 years ago, at age 48 and days before Christmas, she had a heart attack.

“I thought I had the flu,” she said.

Reuland said she realized afterward she was a poster child for what not to do and she began making healthier lifestyle changes.

“I hope you take this message to heart because it is important to take care of each other — women do that better than anybody,” Reuland said.

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