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Star Jones Speaks In Old Greenwich About Her Battle With Heart Disease

Star Jones spoke at the annual Go Red For Women Luncheon & Learning Sessions May 30, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly
Katarina Weigel suffered cardiac arrest due to a rare hereditary gene that causes a deadly arrhythmia. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly

OLD GREENWICH, Conn. – More than 80 percent of coronary events in women can be prevented by diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices, a point driven home at the Westchester-Fairfield Region American Heart Association (AHA) Go Red For Women Luncheon & Learning Sessions on Friday.

More than 400 attended the annual event, including Emmy Award-nominated television host and attorney Star Jones, who was diagnosed with heart disease four years ago. She underwent open-heart surgery to repair her aortic valve.

The experience drew her to volunteer with the American Heart Association to let other women know that heart disease can happen to anyone and educate them about the classic heart-disease symptoms that she experienced.

Like Jones, Desiree Wolfe, who grew up in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and attended Ursuline School in New Rochelle, experienced shortness of breath while training for a 5K last year. A doctor told her everything was fine and three weeks later she again became short of breath and fainted at Webster Bank, where she works.

Her boss, who chairs Webster Bank’s committee that works with the AHA, referred her to a cardiologist, who then diagnosed her with pulmonary emboli in both of her lungs.

“They said you’re not leaving and spent the next four days removing the blood clots,” she said of her doctors. “And it would have been fatal if not detected.”

Wolfe also credits her boss for recognizing the symptoms that she learned about at past AHA events.

Heart disease affects about 43 million women in the U.S. and kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. More than 432,000 women die of heart disease annually, which is ten times more than breast cancer.

Yorktown resident Katarina Weigel, 19, said she was revived from the brink of death after collapsing during her high school volleyball practice in 2010. She suffered cardiac arrest due to a rare hereditary gene that causes a deadly arrhythmia and spent a week at in the intensive care unit at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Valhalla.

Although Weigel can no longer play sports due to the pacemaker/defibrillator that had to be implanted in her, she said she has few limitations.

“Suffering from a cardiac arrest at a young age has taught me that there are silver linings to everything I do,” she said. “This cardiac arrest has made me turn into a strong, optimistic, independent woman that can conquer anything thrown my way.”

Weigil now volunteers with the AHA’s You’re the Cure, which is advocating to get approval of a state bill to get the CPR equipment in the schools.

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