ST. PETERSBURG – One summer day, Sharon Wilson was asleep at home when she woke up with shortness of breath. It had happened before, but this time it felt different. After preparing for the day, she dressed and headed to her car ready to take her son to camp.
After walking from her front door to the car, approximately 50 feet away, fatigue prompted her to lay her head on the steering wheel. There was no pain, but it was difficult for her to breathe. After sitting in the car for a moment to gather herself, she took her son to the camp and immediately called the doctor.
When the doctor told her to monitor herself for 48 hours, Wilson decided differently. She went to St. Anthony’s Hospital to the emergency room. After they ran lab test and imaging, it was determined that she would have to stay overnight. They put her on a heart monitor, which led to further testing. Her concern was with accuracy.
“I came from a family that has experienced heart disease for generations. My mother died at 46 years old from sudden cardiac death,” said Wilson. “Two of my brothers suffered strokes within the last three years. When my mother died, the doctor informed me that she had a sudden heart attack. I didn’t understand. How does someone who seems healthy and going about her daily life, all of a sudden has no life in her?”
Thirty-four years later through her own diagnoses, Wilson learned the real cause of her mother’s death. After being diagnosed herself with cardiomyopathy, heart muscle failure, the condition helped to explain her mother’s sudden death.
She was released from the hospital with the stipulation that she followed the cardiologist’s orders and wear a special life vest for 90 days. The vest is a wearable defibrillator and sudden cardiac arrest protector. It serves as a safeguard and would provide life-saving treatment.
After going back for re-evaluation three months later, the cardiologist indicated that Wilson’s heart had not made any significant improvement and recommended surgery. Both occurrences involving her and her mother, although years apart, changed Wilson’s life.
These experiences provoked Wilson to be a supporter of Go Red for Women, an initiative of the American Heart Association. For many years, she has been an advocate and financial contributor. Through the pain of her personal experience, Wilson launched “iHeart over Heels Network.”
iHeart Over Heels Network’s mission is to inform, inspire and empower underrepresented, minority and African-American communities, to live healthier lives to prevent heart disease or stroke. The vision is to facilitate a national network consisting of organizations, health and wellness groups that will come together for the cause.
Locally, the network will sponsor a “Heritage and Health Showcase” Feb. 24 at the St. Petersburg campus of Pinellas Technical College to celebrate African Americans in medicine and bring awareness to the Go Red for Women initiative.
The event is designed to inform, inspire and empower participants through a health information session and a networking luncheon. Health professionals and organizations will share facts and statistics along with personal stories and lessons learned from cardiovascular disease survivors and their families.
In addition, community leaders with diverse insights will offer innovative health ideas, practical advice and workable solutions on how to live the thriving life you want.
“Through God’s positioning of various people in my life, I am able to receive a second chance to love. I have come to realize every time a heart breaks, it allows love to seal the cracks,” said Wilson. “While it is painful and something I would never wish upon anyone, the amazing love shown by family, friends, colleagues, work staff, sorors and church members have strengthened my heart threefold. I rejoice in sharing my story and my journey because it has taught me to praise God even when I don’t understand what he is doing.”