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Wisconsin Navy Vet, Heart Disease Survivor Going Red for Women

Kelsey Gumm was in the Navy and working out "once, even twice a day" when she found out she had a rare and life-threatening form of heart disease. (Kelsey Gumm/American Heart Association)
Kelsey Gumm was in the Navy and working out "once, even twice a day" when she found out she had a rare and life-threatening form of heart disease. (Kelsey Gumm/American Heart Association)
January 31, 2019

MILWAUKEE – Friday is National Wear Red Day, and one Wisconsin woman who's surviving heart disease says there are lessons in her story.

Kelsey Gumm was in Navy boot camp when she passed out, for what seemed to be no reason. It took her 10 years of fainting spells and misdiagnoses before one day she passed out at the gym.

Gumm couldn't feel her arms and legs and people told her she looked gray. A nurse practitioner sent her to a cardiologist, who said the left bottom part of her heart was spongy and not compressing correctly.

"I was perfectly healthy for the first 18 years of my life,” she relates. “I was a dancer and played sports in school.

“You don't have to be in horrible shape. It affects young people. It affects old people. And it can happen to anybody."

Gumm now has a pacemaker and has even gone back to regular exercise. She plans to go red for heart disease in women on Friday, and says women need to treat their symptoms seriously.

Gumm says the classic image of the heart attack doesn't always apply. She says it could be an overweight, middle-aged man who feels like an elephant is stepping on his chest and has pain in his jaw and shoulder.

Or it could be a healthy-seeming woman having what's mistaken for a panic attack.

Gumm says health care providers have to listen to women, and women need to stand up for themselves.

"For women, it can show up as nausea, indigestion, and it's also a matter of walking into the E.R. and really standing your ground,” she stresses.
“Press and say, 'No, I want this test,' or, 'No, you really need to listen to me because I know what my body is saying.'"

The diagnosis cut short Gumm's planned career in the Navy, but she's 32 now and embracing an active life again – after a couple of years feeling angry and scared.

"I did spend about two years thinking I was going to die anytime I raised my heart rate,” she relates. “But after a while I really was just tired of that. So I started slow, just with walking."

Cardiovascular disease kills an American woman every 80 seconds – more than all kinds of cancer combined. Details at heart.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WI