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If You’re Feeling Off, “Trust Your Heart” And Change Your Habits

Sarah Bouchard was in her office when she got the call that her 59-year-old mom was in the emergency room following a heart attack. She immediately got in the car and started driving to the hospital. Fortunately, in part from the decision to airlift her to another hospital, Bouchard’s mom made it.

“When you have a heart attack, it’s not like the flu; you don’t snap back in a week,” Bouchard says. “Her heart was damaged and she had to go to rehabilitation. She had a lot of trouble breathing for a while.”

Bouchard stayed focused on her mom through her rehabilitation and didn’t think much about what it could mean for her—until a couple of years ago, when she began having heart pains. They were bad enough to prompt her to go to the emergency room at least twice. Finally, with her family history in mind, she took a day to to go to the cardiologist.

It wasn’t easy to prioritize herself. Beyond being focused on family, Bouchard is the managing partner for the Philadelphia office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. She’s been at the firm for her entire career, starting when she was a summer associate in ’94, and tends to pour herself into her work. However, she was tired of feeling off, especially when she was only in her 40s. It turned out to be crucial that she followed up on her heart pains: Detailed scans showed developments of heart disease, and Bouchard was put on preventative medicine.

“Since that time, I’ve lost over 20 pounds and done some pretty meaningful changes in my life to reduce my stress and just be very focused on my health, and I’ve never felt better or more supported,” Bouchard says. “It’s not easy, but I think about the people in our community that do not have the support I do; that have to work two jobs because of their income insecurity, food insecurity, and so many more challenges in their life.”

Those in the community who are struggling with poverty and other challenges on top of heart disease
is one of Bouchard’s focuses as this year’s chair of Go Red for Women.

“Right in our backyard in Philadelphia, we have so many people who need help,” Bouchard says. “Helping them creates a domino effect—the healthier our community is, the healthier our children are, and ultimately it impacts the long-term health and growth of the city.”

As chair, Bouchard says she feels a responsibility to lead by example with heart-healthy habits, including at work. Morgan Lewis offers wellness programs that talk about different aspects of health, including the prevalence of alcohol in the industry.

“We’re talking about it in a way that’s not shameful, and is just helpful to people,” she says. ‘There is a lot of abuse in the profession, and we want to own that and try to get our lawyers in a better space.”

She also wants women to know that they can trust themselves when something feels off, even if initial tests don’t show any abnormalities. Her blood work came back normal, and if she hadn’t gotten scans she wouldn’t have known she had early-stage heart disease.

“If my mom hadn’t really said to herself, ‘no this feels different,’ then she wouldn’t be here today,” Bouchard says. “Ultimately you know you better than anyone else does.”

Did you know?

  • Those with a family history of heart disease are two times more likely to have a heart attack.
  • 12 percent of adults have had a family member have a heart attack before the age of 50.
  • The risk of developing cardiovascular disease for people below the poverty level is 20 percent, compared to 9.5 percent for high-income individuals.

For more information on ways you can Go Red this year, visit phillymag.com/gored.