Go Red 5k raises awareness about heart disease and women

The fourth annual Go Red Heart 5K Run and Walk took place Saturday 1 at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina.

They call it the silent killer for a reason.

Robin Seay was a young 47 when her body's fatigue began to catch up with her.

Seay's symptoms were vague. A backache here. Stomach pain there. Enough to draw the Summerville woman's attention, though she couldn't readily identify the cause of her discomfort.

The answer came in 2007 when Seay suffered a massive heart attack. It was too much for her body to handle.

Looking back, the signs were there, her daughter 34-year-old Stephanie Seay Carter said.

Seay was a smoker, she wasn't a healthy eater and heart disease was prevalent in her family's history, Carter said. Based on the severity of the attack, doctors theorized she may have displayed symptoms as early as in her thirties.

"That kind of woke me up to how serious heart disease was. I didn't realize until then that it was the leading cause of death among men and women, and I especially didn't realize that a large percent of women die after their first heart attack. You don't always get a second chance," Carter said.

Seay's death prompted a lifestyle change in Carter. She started exercising more and eventually became a fitness instructor and personal trainer.

"Unlike cancer, you can prevent this. We can change heart disease. It doesn't have to be our leading cause of death," Hawes said.

Four years ago, Carter organized the Go Red Heart 5K Run and Walk in honor of her mother. This year's run was held Saturday at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina.

Roughly 300 people registered for the annual event. Fewer attended, largely due to the cloudy skies and rain in the day's forecast.

Runners donned red t-shirts, caps and headbands, alluding to the day's theme. The event doubled as a fundraiser for the cause.

Among the attendees was 34-year-old heart attack survivor Keisha Hawes, a national representative for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign.

Like Seay, Hawes too felt generally fatigued leading up to her attack. She was just 31 years old when fatigue transformed into a deep pain in her chest.

"That was 10 years out of college for me. It was nowhere on my radar that I should be concerned about my heart health," Hawes said. "Even though I had a family history of it, and I already had some warning signs, still in my mind I thought that was something for an older person."

The obvious sign of trouble led Hawes to seek the care of doctors. She was one of the lucky ones, she said.

"One of the reasons it's called the silent killer is typically women don't have the same type of symptoms as men. A man has the dead-on center chest pain. He's clutching his chest, he's obviously aware that something is going on that's abnormal," Hawes said. "Women, on the other hand, have symptoms more like exhaustion. What woman do you know who's not exhausted? Arm pain, stomach cramps and nausea can be so easily attributed to anything else going on in a woman's body."

Hawes said she hoped sharing her story would ultimately save a life. If she wasn't aware of the dangers of heart disease, she said, there are other women out there who are also unaware.

"If you ask a woman, typically she's going to tell you she's more afraid of cancer than heart disease. But, overwhelmingly, heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. We're a little misinformed on that, so it's all about getting the word out," Hawes said.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.