A passion to beat heart disease
After losing five siblings, Heather Evans is fighting with everything she’s got
Chapter 1 A heartfelt cause
Heather Evans has to hide her tears every time she signs up a new member at the Calgary gym where she is general manager.
It’s an emotional moment for Heather, 58, when she helps someone take the first step in committing to physical activity and healthier living that can reduce their risk of heart disease. “I have to literally look away, because I start to cry,” she says. “That's how much it means to me.”
Heather is passionate about helping others beat heart disease.
It started when she had two heart attacks in one day at age 39. “A paramedic told me I coded, twice,” she recalls. “I asked him what that meant. He said, ‘Technically, you died.’” In that moment, all that went through her mind was staying alive and strong for her son, Skyler, then five.
That was 2004. Her sister, Anne, had already had a heart attack at 36. It turned out to be more than coincidence. Heather and her seven siblings learned that their genes put them at high risk of coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease.
Since then, heart disease has ravaged her family, taking the lives of four sisters and one brother. Between exhausting rounds of caregiving and grieving, Heather was treated for bladder cancer. Then in 2018, she endured quadruple bypass open heart surgery.
Chapter 2 Staying healthy
Over her years of living with heart disease, Heather has learned a lot about how to manage her own health.
High blood pressure has long been an issue for her. It’s a major risk factor for heart disease and the number one risk factor for stroke.
Like many people, Heather didn’t even realize she had high blood pressure at first. Today she watches it like a hawk, measuring her blood pressure several times a day and taking three pills to control it. “This medication has been a big part of keeping me here.”
She works hard to keep stress under control, and rigorously avoids salt as well as caffeine. “I changed all those things for blood pressure. It’s a big part of heart disease — a huge part.”
Her commitment to healthy living extends to every part of Heather’s life. At home with Skyler, now 24, family eating habits revolve around healthy, low-fat meals with lots of vegetables and fruit.
She has embraced physical activity. As an employee of GoodLife Fitness since 2009, she was working out several times a week. She’s proud that Skyler also works hard to stay fit, running every day.
In fact, Heather says, she sometimes has to remind her son that it’s OK to go out for the occasional pizza with friends. “I tell him, don't live a life where you're just constantly worried. You’ve got to enjoy life, everything in moderation.”
Heather has adopted a healthy, disciplined lifestyle and is helping others do the same.
Heather’s determination to be there for her son, Skyler, helps her push through tough times.
In 2018, Heather had quadruple bypass surgery to clear blockages in her heart.
Chapter 3 A cloudy future
Late in 2021 Heather was experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath. After waiting several months for an angiogram to assess her heart, she was nervous going for the test. Her fears were justified when, midway through, the clinician called in an additional internist. “I knew then that they couldn't fix me, and to be honest with you, deep down, I knew they wouldn't be able to stent it. I could tell.”
The test revealed that two of the blood vessel grafts from her bypass surgery had failed, and another blockage was impeding blood flow to the lower part of her heart. Doctors told her the options to correct these problems are limited, and risky.
A new medication has helped open up Heather’s arteries and restore some of her energy. Now she can climb a flight of stairs without stopping, but needs to pause at the top to catch her breath. She headed back to work at the gym in July on a part-time schedule, under orders from her doctors to not exert herself. “You could say I'm at high risk of a heart attack because of the blockages.”
She admits to thinking a lot about dying. “It's really challenging sometimes. And when I'm by myself in the bath, or whatever, I shed a tear, absolutely.”
But those are private moments. For all the people in her life, especially Skyler, Heather is determined to stay positive, to help give meaning to all the loss her family has gone through, and to help others learn from her experience.
Watch Heather Evans talk about managing her blood pressure.
Her job gives Heather a way to make a tangible difference. “In my mind, I'm saving people…. I'm teaching them to eat healthy and exercise. And if they have heart disease, they're going to prolong their life. And if they don't have it, hopefully I'm helping them prevent it. That's a really rewarding thing.”
GoodLife has created the Heather Evans Braveheart Award to honour Heather. It will be given annually to someone showing extreme resilience and positivity in the face of adversity.
“Heart disease may take my body,” she says. “But it's not going to take my spirit. I'm just gonna keep trucking along and doing what I do.”
- Learn more about recovering from heart disease
Join the fight to end heart disease and stroke.
Facing a future with heart failure
The diagnosis knocked Kevin down. But after open-heart surgery, he’s back on his feet
Working to beat heart failure
Cardiologist Dr. Jacqueline Joza is pioneering a pacemaker innovation that could prevent heart failure
I've been given a second chance
Paul King didn’t think much about heart disease, until a shocking diagnosis changed his life
When emergency struck this school was ready
After CPR helped save Seth, classmates rallied to Jump Rope for Heart in his honour