Roxanna Edwards says she’s lived a healthy lifestyle, even up until doctors diagnosed her with heart failure.
"I've never been overweight. I was never a smoker. I exercised. But I do have a family history of heart disease.”
Ten years ago, Edwards, 65, started experiencing symptoms of heart disease like shortness of breath.
"I live in the country [and] was unable to go for walks up in the hills and trees,” she says.
At the time, she remembered thinking, ‘Oh, you just need to exercise more.’
But Edwards needed to see a doctor. It wasn't until her yearly checkup that she learned she had heart failure. Her ejection fraction, a measurement used to label the amount of blood leaving your heart per beat, was below average.
"When she came to us she was about 20 percent,” says Kelly Ferguson, a nurse practitioner with Nebraska Medicine, has cared for Edwards over the years.
Experts at Nebraska Medicine say the normal range is between 50 to 70 percent.
"When I was in the 20s, I sat on the couch a lot,” Edwards says. “It was an effort to make the bed. Anything."
With her family history and ejection fraction, Edwards was a beat away from a new transplant. However, doctors told her she wasn’t “sick enough” to qualify.
Studies reveal heart disease is the number one leading cause of death in women – more so than lung and breast cancer combined.
But the good news: there are some things you can do to fight back, which is what Edwards did with her care team.
"Exercise and diet is so important in heart failure,” Ferguson says. “Exercise can actually improve the function of your heart – it can reduce the function of your heart and help it beat efficiently. And diet is very important - a low sodium diet is especially."
If that sounds like the typical doctor speech, it actually helped Edward’s heart bounce back.
Today, her ejection rate is at 35 percent.
Now, her heart is fighting for something else: awareness.
I would encourage women to talk to their doctors if they suspect something is wrong, she says.