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CIRCLE OF RED: American Heart Association


On the first Friday in American Heart Month (February 6 this year), women and men all over the country will participate in the American Heart Association’s eleventh National Wear Red Day to promote awareness of heart disease in women. 

A day of focused awareness is important, but a dedicated group of Omaha-area women also seek to stimulate year-round action. At the heart (so to speak) of local efforts to support the ongoing work of the American Heart Association – funding groundbreaking research, developing guidelines to improve patient care and helping people lower their risk factors for heart disease and stroke, among other endeavors – is Go Red For Women, a national campaign with a local faction. 
Within that network, a group of influential local women called Circle of Red have committed to an annual personal contribution of $500 or more. 

Heart of the Matter

“Circle of Red is a subgroup of Go Red For Women, which is a program started 10 years ago (locally) by the American Heart Association for Omaha,” explained 
Ann Stinson, the 2015 Circle of Red chair. “Go Red For Women is the American Heart Association’s national campaign to increase awareness of heart disease and inspire women to take charge of their heart health.” 

Kate Dodge, the founder of Omaha’s Circle of Red (now entering its sixth year and the with the largest membership number in the country even among counterparts in cities like Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles) said the group raised $60,000 in 2014, and because members pledge an annual gift, the total contribution naturally grows every year. 

With the new addition of a $1,000 giving level called the Crimson Society, the goal for 2015 is to raise $75,000.

“The Circle of Red is a group of women who want to ensure that the Go Red For Women campaign will continue year-round and year after year. This group wants to empower women to take control of their own heart health and spread the word to their friends and their families. We believe when you get motivated, dynamic women together, you can really make a difference,” Dodge said. “The Circle of Red has given us a vehicle to encourage women to annually support the Go Red For Women Expo event. It’s an educational and fun opportunity for women to learn about heart disease and I think about the Circle of Red as providing seed money each year.” 

“We raise awareness, we raise dollars and we also have a lot of fun,” she added. 

Heart and Soul 

Gail Yanney, a Circle of Red member who served as the 2014 honorary chair of Go Red For Women Expo in September said one of the major perks of Circle of Red is the social gatherings.

“You feel like an important woman,” she said. “And you’re with other women who gave $500 to something because they cared.”

“It’s a group effort,” Gerry Lauritzen said. Under her leadership in 2014, the Omaha circle grew from 60 members to 116, far surpassing the goal of 85. 

“We’ve really built a group of women who understand the issue better and have gotten excited about supporting the Heart Association’s events and initiatives, and I think it’s had a significant impact. It’s women who are getting the word out there. We know how to educate, we know how to put on many hats at the same time and we also know that if we get together we can make a difference.” It’s rewarding to know that the difference they make is largely in their own community, Dodge said. “That money goes right back into Omaha through research grants at the Med Center, UNL and Creighton. The resources here are wonderful and have been for years.”

“Frankly, we’re very fortunate in our community because we have very good coverage for people with cardiac problems. And a lot of that is because of funding from the American Heart Association,” Yanney said. 

From the Heart

Another driver behind the passion of the women of Circle of Red is the fact that cardiovascular disease touches nearly every family. For instance, in Stinson’s family, her brother survived an unforeseen heart attack at the relatively young age of 41. Lauritzen has siblings diagnosed with cardiovascular health conditions. 

“I’m the oldest of five and I can tell you that all four of my brothers and sisters who are younger than I am have all had heart issues; heart disease is definitely in my family,” Lauritzen said.

“A lot of people think this only happens to older people and a lot of women think this only happens to men,” Dodge said. “When my husband was only 40 years old, he had a cardiac arrest. He was a fit, athletic nonsmoker and nondrinker playing tennis on a Sunday morning.” 

A foursome of physicians were on a nearby court and CPR saved her husband’s life. But Dodge’s sister was not as fortunate; at age 36, the mother of three young children died of cardiac arrest. These experiences were the impetus for Dodge to become involved in advocacy efforts for CPR training and cardiovascular health awareness, ultimately leading to the launch of Omaha’s Circle of Red.

Yanney can speak about heart health from an even more personal perspective. 

“The statistics were something that impressed me, mostly because I have developed a bit of a heart thing; I have experienced paroxysmal atrial fibrillation,” she said. 

She sought to become well-educated about her condition, but Yanney said there are still many unknowns, including the root cause for her particular case. But after becoming involved in Go Red For Women and Circle of Red, Yanney discovered that she was far from alone. Women of all ages opened up about living with heart conditions or risk factors, and Yanney was especially surprised to discover that people she already knew shared her specific condition. 

Take it to Heart

When it comes to heart disease, family history may or may not be a factor, past good health exams do not invariably project a future clean bill of health, and even a pristine lifestyle cannot always overcome a condition lurking in a person’s genes. According to the American Heart Association, more women die of cardiovascular disease than all forms of cancer combined.

“I do not have heart disease personally, but I’ve known for a long time that heart disease is the number one killer of women. Not only is it the number one killer of women, but young women, too, over the age of 20,” Stinson said. “Ultimately, one in three women will die of heart disease, which I think is a very scary statistic.”

Lauritzen emphasized the importance of women not only getting regular checkups, but learning about heart health, too. “I wanted to become not only a voice for Circle of Red but I wanted to be an educated voice,” she explained, adding that heart health education should also include learning about the signs that could indicate a problem. 

“The symptoms for women are different for men, and sometimes it will pass,” she said. “But it will only pass until it doesn’t, and then you are in real trouble.”

Always in Their Hearts

She also said that women need to take care of their own health as assertively as they take care of their families’.

“We’re just so used to – as women – being caregivers, and we’re wonderful at telling everyone else what they should do. And we say it with such caring,” she said. “But sometimes we just forget that we need to be healthy to make sure everyone can be healthy around us, too.”

According to the American Heart Association, the efforts of Go Red For Women are making a measurable impact. Fewer women are dying of heart disease, more women are recognizing and talking to their physicians about troubling symptoms, more women are getting cholesterol and other indicators checked, and more people (including medical professionals) have gained awareness of gender differences in heart disease. Nationally, the American Heart Association helped increase funding for the Center for Disease Control to provide screenings for low-income women, and helped pass federal law in 2010 to keep women’s health insurance premiums from costing more than men’s. 

Dodge reported that Nebraska is seeing tangible results, too. Hospitals are now required to perform a pulse oximetry screening on all newborns to detect the presence of possible congenital heart disease. And the American Heart Association’s local advocacy team is optimistic that high school students will soon be required to learn CPR as part of their graduation requirements. All good news that the Circle of Red women take to heart. 

“I have learned so much in this last year that it will stay with me for the rest of my life,” Lauritzen said.


“This group wants to empower women to take control of their own heart health and spread the word to their friends and their families.
We believe when you get motivated, dynamic women together, you can really make a difference.”
“Not only is it the number one killer of women, but young women, too, over the age of 20.
Ultimately, one in three women will die of heart disease, which I think is a very scary statistic.”



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