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Plum women spread the Go Red message

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Leigh Anne Weiss, Katie Harbison and Wendy McCabe work on invitations and make plans for the Go Red for Women fashion show on November 14. The Go Red for Women Campaign, part of the American Heart Association, aims to educate women about heart disease. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader

Three Plum women have personal reasons for being involved with a campaign designed to raise awareness of heart disease among women.

Leigh-Anne Weiss, Wendy McCabe and Katie Harbison have volunteered their time and efforts to the Go Red for Women campaign, which is part of the American Heart Association, or AHA.

Their latest project is the Go Red for Women Fashion Show, set for Nov. 14 at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in Pittsburgh.

Weiss was only 34 years old when she had a stroke. “Stroke wasn't even on my radar,” Weiss, now 37, said.

Weiss' neighbor, Wendy McCabe, 37, is the regional director for Go Red, an initiative to increase awareness of heart disease among women.

“I hear stories all the time, but (Weiss') story — with both of us being young moms — I just really related to it,” said McCabe, whose own passion for her work is motivated by a family history of heart disease.

McCabe felt that other women would relate to her neighbor's personal story, as well, and got Weiss involved.

“She dedicates her life to volunteering and helping others,” McCabe said of Weiss.

Katie Harbison, 24, of Plum started volunteering for the Go Red for Women Fashion Show last year. Harbison worked with such fundraisers in college, and has enjoyed working with the auction and donations.

“It's become one of my favorite events because you don't feel like you're working when you're doing something you care about,” she said.

Harbison's grandmother struggled with heart problems, which has motivated Harbison.

The Go Red for Women campaign began in 2004 to address the false perception that heart disease was primarily a men's health issue. Research shows that women die more often than men from heart disease. In 2008, for example, 419,730 women died from cardiovascular disease, which includes high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in women, more than all forms of cancer combined.

“In this case, we don't want to be No. 1 but it is a fact that heart disease causes one in three deaths of women each year,” said Karen Colbert, 48, director of communications for the AHA in Western Pennsylvania. Colbert said that women often take care of everyone else, but in order to do that, they cannot neglect their own health.

“The Go Red movement is for women by women. It's all about encouraging women to put their health first,” Colbert said.

Since meeting McCabe and getting involved with Go Red, Weiss has helped spread the message. She has volunteered at the AHA's annual Heart Ball, led workshop demonstrations about healthy cooking and shared her stroke experience through Go Red for Women's Casting Call, a national media effort to put faces to the AHA message.

She is especially proud of the advocacy work she has done with McCabe in Harrisburg.

“We were a powerful team. She had the personal story and I could speak about the facts and details,” said McCabe. The duo was successful in their efforts as both pieces of legislation they lobbied for were passed.

“It was a tremendously empowering feeling to share my story and feel that it made an impact,” Weiss said.

Weiss also walked the runway as a model for the Go Red for Women Fashion Show in 2011 and served on the planning committee for the event.

Each model has a connection to heart disease or stroke, either as a survivor or as someone working toward making heart-healthy lifestyle changes.

The stories of the models are shared throughout the evening.

“The women are really inspiring, incredible women. It's a great group to be a part of,” said Weiss.

“It is, by far, my favorite event because it is enjoyable and inspiring and you walk away with stories that resonate with you,” McCabe said.

The fashions, shopping, food and general atmosphere may feel like a fun ladies' night out but the message of heart disease awareness and prevention is powerful.

“I can't think of one year in the five years I've done the fashion show that I haven't heard from people who have made lifestyle changes because of it,” McCabe said.

Weiss is not sure that she would change her stroke experience even if she could.

“The experience has been priceless. I like getting involved with something near and dear to my heart knowing that, as much as I'm giving, I'm getting it back in return,” Weiss said.

Mandy Fields Yokim is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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