Heart disease survivor urges women to be proactive

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Mary Leah Coco is a wife, a mother and works full time as a training and education director.  But inside, her body is waging a quiet battle against heart disease.

"I always hear, well you don't look like you have heart disease, well that's the problem. Most women don't look like they have heart disease," said Coco.

Three years ago, after doctors discovered a small hole in her mother's heart, Coco decided to get checked out by a cardiologist.   While she seemed to be the picture of good health on paper with a low BMI and perfect cholesterol levels, her doctor ordered an echocardiogram- a sonogram of the heart- based on her family history.

That test revealed that Coco only had 10 percent heart function.  Turns out, she has a condition called cardiomyopathy or an enlarged heart.  An enlarged heart is weak and unable to pump blood as it should.

"I really never thought that I was going to have heart disease.  I was 30. My baby was 2," said Coco. "I sat in my doctor's office and started thinking, well what scriptures would I want read, who would I want to sing at my funeral because I didn't think that I was going to make to 33 with only 10 percent of my heart functioning."

Fortunately, that test saved her life.  Medication, a strict diet and a defibrillator have improved her heart function, but she will eventually need a heart transplant.

Hearing your heart cannot sustain your life is tragic news, and Coco admits that she allowed a full day to "feel sorry for herself." But then, Coco says she got up.

"You can be bitter, or you can be better," said Coco.

Coco got involved with the American Heart Association, using her story to educate women and encourage them to be proactive in their health.  She was even a national spokesperson for the AHA for 2013.

One of her biggest messages is for women to be proactive about their health and to listen to the signs their body is giving.   Each year, nearly 530,000 women will die from heart disease, and one in three women have risk factors.

"If it feels abnormal to you should get it investigated. If you don't feel comfortable with your doctor's response, get it investigated. It's ok to take that power back as a patient and say, I want to take it one step further because you your best advocate," said Coco.

Women in the metro area can start being proactive by getting their basic heart screenings done at the Go Red for Women event on Friday, February 7.  The event at the River Center will have free screenings from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. 
You can also purchase tickets to attend a luncheon which will feature speakers and a fashion show.

For more information on the event, click here.

For more information on heart disease and its effects, go to www.heart.org.

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