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Faces of Heart: The Importance of Consistently Monitoring Your Heart Health


Friends of Dawn Roberts say that the marathoner has two modes: running or sleeping. Between working out six days a week, leading her race management company Elite Access Running and being a mother, she defines her life by being active. That hasn’t changed despite the fact that she was diagnosed with a heart disease two years ago.

It all started right before Roberts’ 50th birthday, when she started feeling winded after going up and down the stairs to her nutritionist’s office. For most people, that wouldn’t mean much. Even her son, who was 10 years old at the time, said it seemed like no big deal. But for a trained athlete accustomed to running uphill for long distances, it was enough of a reason to see a cardiologist. 

After running a few tests, her first cardiologist told her nothing was wrong. Although she wasn’t completely convinced, she took his word for it and continued life at her usual pace. About three months later, during a race she was coordinating for a client through Elite Access, she felt a new pain in her chest. The same cardiologist told her, again, that nothing was wrong. 

It took getting a second and then a third opinion from different cardiologists for Roberts to find a diagnosis. During her third stress test, Roberts’ doctor had her stop abruptly on the treadmill—and she discovered that her heart was not recovering quickly from running. This led to Roberts being diagnosed with a 99 percent blockage in her left anterior descending artery—often called a widowmaker because a heart attack caused by the blockage can become fatal in mere minutes. 

“The doctors were looking at me, like, ‘How are you running? How are you surviving?’” Roberts says.

She recalls her cardiologist telling her that, in layman’s terms, her heart had essentially repaired itself over time because of her healthy, active lifestyle. “I always say that running saved my life.” 

Roberts had a stent placed soon after her diagnosis—and says the only difference between her life before finding out about her heart disease and her life now is that she has to take medicine daily to ensure her arteries don’t get clogged.

Now, her focus is on asking the right questions to make sure her son doesn’t have to go through the same thing she did. Until her blockage was discovered, Roberts didn’t know heart disease actually ran in her family—and her blockage was likely caused by genetics. 

“After all of this, I’m finding out now that my grandfather died from heart disease,” Roberts says. “My aunt died from a heart attack,” “Even though he’s 12, I spoke to my son’s pediatrician. I’m getting his heart checked out. Families need to talk about this. It shouldn’t be a secret. The fact that I know—now I’m even more adamant to share that with people. If you have people in your family that died from heart disease, please get it checked out.”

Roberts also stresses the importance of “going the extra mile” to identify potential symptoms in athletes—because even if they may appear healthy, as she did, something can be wrong. The same goes for women, who tend to have more subtle symptoms than men. 

Most importantly, she wants people, and especially women, to feel comfortable speaking up when something is wrong and finding help.

“No one wants to say that I’m not okay,” Roberts says. “I want to say it’s okay not to be okay. If you get diagnosed with heart disease, it’s okay. It’s not a death sentence. People don’t understand that when you get a stent, that’s not a death sentence. That’s modern technology. That’s opened up my arteries, my airway, so I can breathe.”

Faces of Heart is a campaign created by Stephanie Austin through the American Heart Association. Its mission is to spread awareness about how to prevent and recognize signs of heart disease through educational programming and the creation of a network of survivors.