LONG BEACH - Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women - more deadly than all forms of cancer combined, according to the American Heart Association.
That was the message to women at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center's sixth annual Women's Heart and Stroke Seminar on Saturday.
The Memorial Care Heart & Vascular Institute and the Long Beach Memorial Stroke Program hosted the one-day event of lectures and cardiovascular risk-screenings in celebration of National Heart Awareness Month.
More than 180 women gathered to also hear stories of survival from women including 42-year-old Lilly Rocha, who had a heart attack at 37.
"I think my heart attack had a lot to do with stress," she said. "I was like a super, hyper type-A personality person as far back as I can remember - very competitive."
Rocha, who was healthy, young and athletic, found out she had a family history of heart disease.
"It was a very shocking revelation to know that I had the history. It was a life-changing experience for me," she said. "I no longer have that need to be competitive. It makes me realize the important things in life are not for me to be competitive, but living and enjoying life."
Today, Rocha often shares her story with other women who, like herself, young and healthy, ignore the risk factors.
"I try to tell people about eating healthy, getting some sleep, not being stressed out and thinking about what's really important in life," she said. "But unfortunately, sometimes something like this has to happen for people to realize the importance of it."
Over the years, Margi Thompson, 64, had suffered two heart attacks and an irregular heartbeat that greatly increased her risk of a stroke. Two years ago, she had that stroke while sleeping and was left unable to walk and barely able to speak.
"I couldn't say yes or no, but I could still recite Bible verses," she said. "Today, I am OK because I can now walk and talk, and I'm getting better."
Thompson was determined to get better despite the diagnoses. She attends therapy seven times a week.
"I disregarded them saying I couldn't walk and talk, because I knew I could and would do all those things again," she said.
According to the National Stroke Association, women of color have a higher risk of having a stroke. These risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
"I wanted to do something proactive for my health," said Nicole Moore, a 44-year-old black woman. "I'm hoping to go away with a reinforcement that I am in control of what I can do for my health and the longevity of me. I hoping that I can learn the tools so that I can live longer."
Education is the key to prevention, said Angie West, the program director for neuroscience at Memorial and one of the event organizers.
"The best way to treat a stroke or a heart attack is not to have one. So, if we educate our community on their risk factor and decrease their risk, then hopefully we can prevent a stroke or a heart attack," she said. "People don't know the signs of a stroke, so when they have a sign of a stroke they don't know they are having a stroke and they don't pay attention to it."
According to the American Stroke Association, at the sign of a stroke it is vitally important to act F.A.S.T., and acronym for when you notice a facial droop, arm numbness or slurred speech, it's time to call 911.