Go Red event shows women can move beyond heart disease diagnosis
The dancing had to stop.
Those were not words that Kristie Lindblom wanted to hear. She was 21. She had her entire life ahead of her to perform on stage. The dance major at Point Park University with only two credits remaining to graduate didn't want to face standing still and not being allowed to take future steps in rehearsals preparing for upcoming shows.
But the dancing had to stop.
Lindblom's heartbeat wouldn't be strong enough to keep the dance beats pumping. She was born with a congenital heart condition called Long QT Syndrome, which causes fast, chaotic heartbeats that can result in fainting and, in some cases, cardiac arrest.
“I didn't know what was going on,” she says. “I was a young, healthy dancer.”
Lindblom, 34, of Regent Square will be one of the models — all who have heart disease — sporting fashions from Macy's at the American Heart Association's 10th annual Go Red for Women Fashion Show on Nov. 20 at The Westin Convention Center, Pittsburgh. The theme is “A Woman Can Never Have Enough Shoes. But She Only Has One Heart”
Lindblom was first diagnosed at the age of 19 after passing out multiple times. Her cardiologist-electrophysiologist Dr. Gur Adhar from UPMC Mercy tried to treat her condition with beta blockers.
“We tried to regulate the condition for two years until I passed out on my front porch and my boyfriend, now husband, caught me on the way down,” she says. “I wasn't breathing and could hear him yelling at me to breathe, though I was unconscious.”
She was then given a Holter monitor, which at one point recorded her heart rate at 400 beats per minute.
“I was told to go directly to the hospital where my doctor recommended an ICD implantation (pacemaker), which ended my dancing career.”
But not her fight to survive.
Part of the message for the show is that heart disease is not only an older woman's concern. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. It's a condition that can affect any female, even one who's fit and dances 10 hours a day.
Heart disease does not discriminate, says Karen Colbert, director of communications for the American Heart Association, Great Rivers Affiliate. The fashion show is about real women of all ages with heart disease.
“All these women have such interesting stories,” Colbert says. “Kristie has such a wonderful attitude. She embraces what has happened to her, and she doesn't let it get her down. She keeps on moving.”
Lindblom has moved forward in life without dancing. She married Brett, and they have a son, Seamus, 8 and daughter, Emelie, 5. The children, as well as Lindblom's mother, sister, brother and nephew have tested positive for the Long QT gene, but are asymptomatic.
“It sounds funny, but, in many ways, I see my heart condition as a gift sent from beyond to guide me in finding true purpose,” she says. “I am passionate about empowering others to take control of their health and am honored to do so through amazing organizations like the American Heart Association.”
She started using yogic breathing to calm down during a surgery to fix her pacemaker. She started meditating and became a registered yoga instructor. She has been teaching yoga and meditation for the Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease through Highmark and Jefferson Hospital. She also holds classes for the staff at the Pittsburgh branch of the American Heart Association, teaches at Schoolhouse Yoga, and works privately with clients to use yoga to help create an environment for healing in the body.
She maintains her ties to her collegiate alma mater by teaching stage movement.
“There was a time I was in a very dark place,” Lindblom says. “I was 30 years old, and I was sick of being sick. But I got myself together and decided I wanted to work with heart patients. I am not my diagnosis. Heart disease doesn't have to define you.”
Linda Gordon, a nurse practitioner in interventional cardiology at UPMC Shadyside says it's important to get the word out about heart disease to women who tend to think of others in their families first.
“What better way than a fashion show to get that message across?” says Gordon, who 10 years ago was involved with a gathering of women with heart disease for an informational event. The fashion show grew from that first meeting.
“The second year we met we decided to do the fashion show and had patients and physicians as models,” Gordon says. “I love having both the patients and the doctors who care for those patients involved in events like this fashion show. The American Heart Association has helped the event to grow. If you get women involved at a young age it can help prevent a lot of things. We want to educate women about heart disease and do something about this.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7889.