Paula Mitchell

Paula Mitchell

POUGHKEEPSIE–About three months ago just as the American Heart Association was kicking off its annual Better U Challenge program, Dr. Max Gomez did a report for CBS 2 New York on women and heart disease.

In that segment, he noted that it is preventable by knowing one’s risk factors.

Gomez, a nine-time Emmy award-winning broadcaster, took that same message to Poughkeepsie on Thursday for the 10th annual Go Red For Women luncheon.

Gomez led a panel of specialists on what women can do to reduce their risk, including eating a healthy diet and exercising.

“There is nothing more important than taking care of yourself,” he said prior to the panel presentation. “We talk about your body as a temple, but you are the one person that is in charge of your own body and your own health.

“You have to take care of it–not just for yourself but for all your loved ones, your family, your friends. There are a lot of people who care about you, and that is really important.”

About 350 women attended the 10th annual Go Red For Women luncheon on Thursday at the Poughkeepsie Grandview. Photo by Paula Mitchell.

The broadcaster is not just a polished presence on TV. He happens to hold an undergraduate degree from Princeton and Ph.D from the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Gomez said he viewed being in Poughkeepsie as an opportunity to further educate women about the importance of prevention.

“If you wait for something to happen–a heart attack or a stroke or some other event–then it’s a little bit too late. It’s never completely too late, but that heart disease that led to that event has been going on already for decades,” he said.

“You have to take charge of your own health, whether it’s becoming more active, controlling your blood pressure, your weight, your cholesterol–simple things can make a really big difference in your health.”

Those on the panel included cardiologist Sarah Levin, nutritionist Roufia Payman, personal trainer Kelly Mills and certified grief therapist Shelley Tatelbaum.

The group discussed everything from stress to diet and everything in between.

Gomez said one of the critical things women need to keep in mind is that heart attack symptoms for women often are different from those of men.

“They don’t have that classic pain that Hollywood’s always told us happens in the neck and goes down the left arm. They might not recognize or react right away and may think, ‘I’m just tired or it’s indigestion or something else.’ Don’t fool around. Go see your doctor or get to the hospital.”

About 350 women attended the luncheon held at the Poughkeepsie Grandview. It represented the culmination of the Better U Challenge, which began for 12 women in August.

The participants were part of a 12-week program to learn how to eat better, exercise more and try to find ways to de-stress.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease and stroke claim a woman’s life every 80 seconds. An estimated 44 million women in the United States are affected by cardiovascular disease, the agency notes.

While the statistics are grim, the AHA says that 80 percent of heart disease and stroke events can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes and education.

The event spotlighted the experience of Tina Vaitkus, who survived a heart attack in August. The Pawling woman was a former Better U participant and said she learned to recognize the symptoms from her experience in the program. The 49-year-old mother credited the free nutrition and fitness program with saving her life.

The event also featured “Purseonality,” an auction of sophisticated handbags and deluxe items donated by local female celebrities.

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