University hosts rally to raise heart disease awareness

Mike Enright

In the spring of 1999, then-University first-year student Kelli Smyth suddenly collapsed while running along the Mississippi River.


Wear Red Rally
What: Free breakfast with guest speakers.
When: 8 a.m. today
Where: University Field House

How to Mend a Broken Heart
What: Presentation by cardiologist Dr. Anne Taylor.
When: Noon today
Where: 2-650 Moos Tower
For more information, Go to:

“I woke up lying on the sidewalk,” she said. “My knees were bleeding and my head was bleeding, so I realized something must have happened.”

When Smyth got back to her residence hall, her friends immediately took her to the emergency room, and after seeing several doctors and running several tests, Smyth was diagnosed with a rare form of heart disease.

Today, the 26-year-old University alumna is a reinsurance broker and hasn’t let her condition hold her back.

“I’ve been rappelling down caves in Mexico, I’ve been scuba diving and I participate in all aspects of life,” she said. “Honestly, the hardest part of all of this is trying to get my insurance company to pay for all of my medical bills.”

Smyth is also one of several presenters scheduled to speak this morning at the University Field House as part of a rally meant to educate women about the deadliness of heart disease.

The No. 1 killer of women and men in the United States, heart disease claims the lives of nearly 500,000 women every year, more than all kinds of cancer combined.

Co-hosted by the University and the American Heart Association, the 8 a.m. rally kicks off a number of events on campus happening during National Heart Month.

In addition to featuring speeches by Minnesota first lady Mary Pawlenty, Medical School Dean Deborah Powell and Smyth, organizers said they hope to attract enough people – roughly 1,000 – to form the world’s largest “living heart.”

Following the morning assembly, University professor and cardiologist Dr. Anne Taylor will talk about prevention and what women can do to live heart-healthy lives at a noon presentation in Moos Tower.

Events such as those happening today are important because so many women are unaware of the grave threat presented by heart disease, said Carol Barron, nurse coordinator for the Women’s Heart Clinic in the University Medical Center.

“The big thing is it’s preventable, and that’s the message we have to get out to women,” she said. “We can reverse the disease, even in women who have had heart attacks.”

Echoing Barron’s sentiments, University first lady Susan Hagstrum, President Bob Bruininks’ wife and master of ceremonies for the morning rally, said the key to eliminating heart disease is education.

“People need to do just four basic things to prevent heart disease: eat healthy, exercise, quit smoking and get to the doctor,” she said. “The No. 1 thing is probably smoking. There are still so many young women smoking today, and that is just like a punch to the heart.”

Barron, Hagstrum and Smyth each said it is particularly important to get the message out to younger women, who might not think themselves susceptible.

“I’d like to make all women, especially young women, aware that heart disease can affect you, and if it does, your life can continue,” Smyth said. “You don’t have to let it affect you to the extent that your life stops.”