DALLAS January 21, 2020 Nine heart disease and stroke survivors boldly share their stories as part of the American Heart Association’s, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, signature movement Go Red for Women®. The 2020 class of Real Women aim to raise awareness of a woman’s number one killer: cardiovascular disease. As year-long national volunteers for the movement, their powerful survivor stories inspire other women to understand that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat and empower them to take action to lower their risk.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, killing one woman about every 80 seconds.[1] Although considerable progress has been made to increase awareness, disparities in care for women with cardiovascular disease continue to persist.

  • Women make up less than half of all clinical trial participants globally with women of color only accounting for 3%.[2] While strides have been made to close gender and racial disparities in research, women and minorities continue to be underrepresented globally.

  • Cardiovascular disease is not just a problem for older women or men. Heart disease and stroke can affect a woman at any age, and new research shows heart attacks are on the rise in younger women.[3]

  • Today, there is considerably more understanding of the vast biological differences between men and women[4] including disease progression and treatment response.

Real Women represent a diverse sisterhood of survivors, who actively, urgently and passionately participate in the Association’s Go Red for Women movement. Often the surprising faces of cardiovascular disease, Real Women share their survivor stories to raise awareness and inspire others to take charge of their own heart health through education, lifestyle changes and personal advocacy. These women are a reminder that one in three women worldwide are impacted by heart disease or stroke, and nearly half of all women age 20 and older live with cardiovascular disease.[5] Their nine relatable stories aim to band all women together to collectively take action to end heart disease and stroke.

Adriana Gallardo (57) of Los Angeles, the honorary lead for the Real Women class of 2020, learned about heart attack symptoms at a local American Heart Association event. Two weeks later, she experienced her own heart scare and credits the Association for helping to save her life. The businesswoman, originally from Mexico, wants to inspire women, specifically Latinas, to join the Go Red for Women movement. She supported the translation of the Go Red for Women website into Spanish which is an imperative need as more than 40% of Latinas age 20 and older live with cardiovascular disease.[6] Adriana advocates for women to know their numbers, which are the five key personal health numbers that help determine risk for heart disease and stroke: total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index.

During pregnancy and after the birth of her daughter, Michelle Emebo (35) experienced postpartum hypertension. Because of this condition and excess weight, she was at high risk for cardiovascular disease. A clinical researcher from Tinley Park, Illinois, she committed to living a healthier lifestyle and lost more than 75 pounds through exercise and diet. Michelle’s weight lost and lifestyle changes reduced her blood pressure and she was able to get off her blood pressure medication.

Eight days after having her second child, Jenny Petz (45), had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) heart attack. She also had 98% percent blockage from cholesterol. Hereditary high cholesterol caused her heart to work overtime during pregnancy, however, she had no idea she was at risk for high cholesterol because the issue had not surfaced during physicals. Jenny, who lives in Elkhorn, Nebraska, now knows her numbers, gets her cholesterol checked regularly and encourages the women in her life to do the same, including her daughter. She successfully manages her cholesterol thanks to exercise, diet and medication.   

Physically active her entire life, Tasya Lacy (53), was unaware she was having a “widow maker” heart attack. Her husband recognized the symptoms and knew it was time to act. Tasya, a business owner and a hula hoop fitness instructor now living in Columbus, Ohio, was in denial and suffered from depression after her event. She eventually worked up the energy to get back to teaching and found a familiar face in her class – the former nurse who cared for her after her heart attack. She now advocates for women to find their passion when it comes to physical activity.

Although Claudia Mercado (56) knew her family had a history of heart disease, she did not manage her risk. She eventually had two heart attacks. The first she misdiagnosed as heartburn or indigestion. The second sparked an immediate trip to the hospital. Claudia, who is from Metuchen, New Jersey now uses art therapy to manage her stress and wants to help educate Latina women about preventing heart disease. She uses her platform to urge women to “listen to their bodies” and know the warning signs of heart attack.

Maddie Price (19) has been dealing with cardiovascular disease her entire life. She was born with congenital heart disease. She had open-heart surgery at nine days old and a second surgery at age three. She’s had two heart transplants and many other procedures. Maddie, who lives in Palm Harbor, Florida, supported her local American Heart Association as an intern.       

Monique Acosta House (47) was only 22 when she was diagnosed with heart failure after noticing changes in her stamina, fatigue and severe arm pain. Within months of the diagnosis, she enrolled in a clinical trial which improved her heart function dramatically. A retrospective analysis showed the beta-blocker she was taking made a significant difference in the treatment for African Americans. As she resumed her life, she did not adhere to her medication regimen which ultimately worsened her condition. After the birth of her son, Monique, who now lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, received a life-saving heart transplant in 2017. She currently tracks her condition through mobile applications to ensure she is proactive about her health when she speaks to doctors.

Ashley Lucchese (33) went into cardiac arrest at her office, telling a coworker that she felt dizzy before passing out. The coworker performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) which saved Ashley’s life. The coworker had learned CPR two days earlier. Ashley had experienced a miscarriage four days before, so her body was weak. Doctors placed her in a coma, and she remained in the hospital for three weeks. Ashley, now 36 and living in Woburn, Massachusetts, struggled emotionally at first but decided to support fellow survivors and help with education about CPR and automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

Nicole Murray (34) has had two strokes. The first occurred when she was 29. After being sick for days, she tried to go to work but could not speak. She didn’t know the stroke warning signs and unable to call 9-1-1. She eventually reached her mother who took her to the emergency room. Nicole, who lives in Indianapolis, went to the hospital where doctors thought she showed signs of a stroke but told her she was too young. After a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI), she was diagnosed with a stroke. Nicole’s speech returned but it was slow and slurred. In speech therapy, her therapist urged her to have a second MRI when her speech worsened after a few sessions which confirmed she had a second stroke. In the last five years, Nicole has experienced severe depression and suicidal thoughts. She didn’t have anyone to talk to or understand what she was going through as a young woman living with cardiovascular disease. She has made it her personal mission to educate women on the stroke warning signs acronym: F.A.S.T (Face drooping, arm weakness, speech, time to call 9-1-1).

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.orgFacebookTwitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.   

About Go Red for Women

The American Heart Association’s signature initiative, Go Red for Women®, is a comprehensive platform designed to increase women’s heart health awareness and serve as a catalyst for change to improve the lives of women globally. While nearly 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, claiming the lives of 1 in 3 women. For 16 years, Go Red for Women has encouraged awareness. The movement harnesses the energy, passion and power of women to band together and collectively wipe out heart disease. It challenges them to know their risk for heart disease and take action to reduce their personal risk. It also gives them tools they need to lead a heart healthy life. The Go Red for Women movement is nationally sponsored by CVS Health, with additional support from national cause supporters. For more information, please visit GoRedforWomen.org or call 1-888-MY-HEART (1-888-694-3278).     

For Media Inquiries:

Kim Haller: 214-706-4858; kimberly.haller@heart.org

For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721) 


[1] Benjamin EJ, Muntner P, Alonso A, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics - 2019 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. E259. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000659 Published January 31, 2019. 

[2] 2015-2016 Global Participation in Clinical Trials Report. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/InformationOnDrugs/UCM570195.pdf (Pages 11,14)

[3] Arora S, Stouffer GA, Kucharska-Newton AM, et al.Circulation. 2019;139:1047–1056. Twenty Year Trends and Sex Differences in Young Adults Hospitalized with Acute Myocardial Infarction: The ARIC Community Surveillance Study.  4https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.037137Circulation Published Feb. 19, 2019.

[4] Liu KA, DiPietro Mager NA. Women’s involvement in clinical trials: historical perspective and future implications. Pharmacy Practice 2016 Jan-Mar;14(1):708. doi: 10.18549/PharmPract.2016.01.708 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4800017/.

[5] Benjamin EJ, Muntner P, Alonso A, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics - 2019 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. E259. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000659 Published January 31, 2019

[6] Benjamin EJ, Muntner P, Alonso A, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics - 2019 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. E259. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000659 Published January 31, 2019.