AUSTIN, Texas - A heart attack survivor on a mission to spread heart health awareness after surviving a heart attack in her 30s.
February marks American Heart Month and February 5, 2021 is Go Red for Women Day, a way to bring awareness to the importance of women's heart health.
One in three women will die from heart disease or stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
Now, Lashawnda Walker is sharing her story and a strong message for doctors.
If you look at Walker's social media, you'll find what's expected, a loving mom with a beautiful family, active and by all outward appearances, healthy.
In 2017, her son's high school graduation in early June marked a life-changing occasion, but it wasn’t the only thing that would change her life that year.
"Everything just kind of hit me like a ton of bricks," Walker remembers, thinking to one month after she saw her son walk across the stage.
"I started having health issues mostly surrounded around my heart not beating regularly and passing out maybe 2 to 3 times a week," Walker says.
Worried, she went to the doctor
"I mostly heard stress anxiety don't worry about this it's probably going to go away or will figure this out we've done regular testing and everything has come out normal so you shouldn't really worry about things and you're probably stressing too much of course and of course knowing my body and knowing that somethings wrong, I definitely knew that things weren't right," Walker remembers. She says it was frustrating, she knew something was off.
"I ended up having a heart monitor and planted under my skin that would keep up with my heart rate and my monitoring to see how my heart rate was going," Walker said, remembering things did not get better.
"The heart monitor was put in in July 2017 so it literally was about a month that I was being monitored to the day and of course in between the time, I was in and out of the hospital because I was still having episodes of passing out and it would catch it on my monitor and of course it wasn't anything severe enough for the doctor to take action on," Waler says, "[Doctors said] oh yeah, we see it, we know it's there, but we don't really see a reason to take any action."
The next time she felt something was the day it was time to pack her son up for his big move to college.
"I began to feel the tightness in my chest and the pain running down my arm and immediately, you know, was fearful because I wasn't sure what was going to happen if I was going to pass out or what was happening," Walker said. "I just felt like I couldn't breathe, my chest was tightening, actually the term of the elephant feeling like it's on your chest is exactly what I felt."
She remembers that day her husband and daughter left to visit a grandparent, she was left alone in the garage packing up the car for the big college move and her son was inside the house, finishing his last-minute packing.
"It felt as if there was like a giant elephant foot crushing my chest at the time just the pain was just radiating in my arm. It was outrageous, so I got down on my knees to break the fall because I didn't want to pass out on my concrete garage," Walker remembers. "I crawled to my garage door and I was able to open and call for my son who was in his room and he opened his door and he saw my face and he saw, I guess, the distressed look on my face. I don't know what that look was to this day."
The 37-year-old active mom was suddenly in the fight for her life.
"He immediately grabbed his phone to dial 911 and I believe that's what saved my life because once the EMS got there, they rushed me to the hospital and everything happened so fast," Walker says. "I was in and out of consciousness. I think my heart was in the 20s by then."
She says it took a heart attack for doctors to finally take her seriously.
"I believe that when it comes to women and heart health, we are overlooked because, you know, we are the ones that are known to be a little too dramatic and we’re the ones that are stressed out so you know we're always constantly told that we're stressed and that we need to slow down and monitor our stress levels in the things that we do and that's usually the typical response that you'll get," Walker says.
She says family and friends didn't understand why a seemingly healthy young woman could have a pace-maker and heart attack.
"Genetics do play a big part as well. You can live the healthiest lifestyle and be young and still have a heart condition. You can still be walking around and not knowing when you're going to have a heart attack or when you're going to have a stroke," Walker said. "[You can] walk around and have high blood pressure, diabetes, all these things play a factor in African-American women just because were known to have high cholesterol."
Now, you can look at her social media and see she's on a new life mission.
"There was a second chance given to me and I would want to prevent someone from having to endure what I endured," Walker says. "So I say in advance get your check up. Know these things in advance, know your DNA in advance, know heart disease, know if your family has stroke that runs in the family. All these things are important because the more knowledge you have, the more of a grip you have on your health."
But she says, the burden is not only on women, she has a message for doctors.
"[Doctors] listen carefully, because we do know our bodies, we are not we are not exaggerating when we say that we literally are really sick. When we come in with an ailment, we really do have an ailment, so I would just say, listen listen to us when we say things aren't right or we don't feel right or things are really off. Listen and take action," Walker said.
Walker says the biggest symptoms she noticed were fatigue, breathlessness, sweating, nausea, and a sense of something feeling off.
She also stresses the importance of getting a second opinion and self-advocating for your health.
If you're interested in learning more about heart health, visit www.goredforwomen.org.