When people ask why I chose 'heart health' as my platform, I always respond by saying that, "it chose me." The summer after my high school graduation I lost my grandfather to heart disease. He was one of the most inspiring and influential people in my life. He spent the last ten years of his life unable to speak because of a stroke. However, this handicap never stopped him from being an incredible grandfather to my brother and me. He loved us more than anything in the entire world. He taught me to always be strong no matter what life throws at you. He passed away in the summer of 2009.
While my grandfather was in the hospital, my grandmother suffered from a heart attack. I still remember the day that it happened. I was walking her to her car and she told me she was having shortness of breath. She said that she was going to go to the doctor that week because she assumed that it was just allergies. The first doctor told her that she had a sinus infection. When her symptoms did not go away, she went to another doctor. That is when she learned that she had suffered a heart attack. My family and I were shocked that a doctor could not tell that she was having a heart attack. This is why it is important for women to know that their heart attack symptoms can be extremely less intense than a man's symptoms. My grandmother is now a heart attack survivor after going through quadruple bypass surgery.
At the age of 19 I found out that my cholesterol was above 200. I was so confused when my doctor told me this news because I am in shape and live a healthy lifestyle. This is when I learned that genetics will always play a role in my health. I made the decision at that time to educate young people about the importance of heart health. Most young people don't think that they have to worry about heart health until they are older. It is never too early or too late to start taking care of your heart. My favorite group of people to talk to are young children. I love speaking with them about eating the colors of the rainbow and discussing ways to be active. My grandmother has also completely changed her diet since her heart attack and we often cook healthy dinners together.
As you can see, heart health is not just something I talk about because I compete in pageants. I have experienced the devastation that heart disease can cause. I also live every day with an effort to be heart healthy because I still have border-line high cholesterol. The American Heart Association's statement "Learn and Live" is so true! I have learned ways to be healthier so that I will live longer and I hope that I can inspire people to do the same.
*Ms. Mathis was recognized by the Georgia House of Representatives on February 26, 2014. She thanked the members for their dedication to prevent cardiovascular diseases and in making CPR education a requirement for high school graduation in Georgia a reality. She said, “It takes a village, but we’re well on our way to a healthier state,” thanks to these House members.