Yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in the American Heart Association’s 5k Heartwalk at Rocky Neck State Park in Connecticut. On a beautiful, crisp, quintessentially New England fall day, hundreds of people from this sleepy corner of eastern Connecticut showed up to walk or run to raise money for the American Heart Association. My sister, Lisa, and I, along with my brother in law and nephews, participate in the Heartwalk every year. For us, it is not just good exercise and quality family time; it is also personal, as we walk on behalf of Mended Hearts, a national support group for survivors of cardiac surgery and heart disease. Our mother, Priscilla, is involved in the group on a national level. Like so many women, her heart disease went misdiagnosed and we nearly lost her, at the age of 52, to a major heart attack. She survived but so many women don’t, which brings me to the point of this post.
My family walking in the Heartwalk
Me, my mother and sister
At the Heartwalk, a towering poster showed the Red Dress—the symbol of AHA’s Go Red for Women campaign to raise awareness among women to prevent life-threatening misconceptions and misdiagnoses like my mom’s. This chic little logo (to me, with jewelry always on the brain) would make a sweet pendant or charm.
Having spent the past couple months fielding press releases from companies producing pink ribbon jewelry for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wondered how the industry has missed the boat with this similarly important cause. When I did a little research, the numbers shocked me: Nearly 400,000 American women die each year from heart disease. About 40,000 die from breast cancer. As the Mayo Clinic puts it:
Heart disease is responsible for more deaths in women than all forms of cancer combined.
Heart disease is the most significant health concern for women in the United States today.
There are already costume versions of the logo, but the symbol could be beautifully rendered in garnets or rubies or enamel, and sold—as precious versions of pink ribbons are for breast cancer awareness—to benefit the American Heart Association’s efforts to raise awareness among women, who are often at risk—as my mother was—for not understanding symptoms (which are different than they are among men) and going misdiagnosed.
For a jeweler the opportunity is amazing: not only would a precious red dress be a great way to help this vital cause, it would be a product that appeals to millions: those who have heart disease; those—like my sister and I—who have witnessed how misdiagnosed heart disease can be–if not fatal–debilitating for a lifetime; and the families of women who die from heart disease each year.
At the end of the Heartwalk, my mom was one of the volunteers handing out carnations: Red carnations for survivors or those walking in behalf of survivors; white for those walking in memory of someone who died from heart disease. As people finished the walk, those flowers—with the symbolism and meaning that precious jewelry portrays so well—brought smiles and, sometimes, tears. The flowers were later laid in a poignant heart shape—the Heart of Hope.
My nephew, Tim, places a red carnation in the Heart of Hope
The walk, the carnations, the Red Dress, all represent the hope that this may be the year that we lose fewer people (in the case of the Red Dress: women) to heart disease. As I walked away and saw organizers packing up the Red Dress poster and brochures, I couldn’t help but hope this might also be the year that jewelry companies out there recognize the importance of the Red Dress in raising heart disease awareness among women, understand the missed opportunity, and join the fight.