It was a tough few years for Winsome Dewar. In 2008 her mother, who had been living with high blood pressure, died after a stroke.
Then a year later Winsome’s sister, Panceta, had a massive heart attack at age 63. She did not survive. In 2011 another sister, Levene, died of complications from heart failure. A sister-in-law died of a stroke during the same period.
Winsome’s family has been hit hard by heart disease and stroke. She is determined to do everything she can to protect her own health and her children’s.
A shattering loss
The seeds of that determination were planted early, when she was growing up in Jamaica. At the age of 15 she saw her father collapse and die in front of her.
“I was talking to him one moment and the next moment I turned around as I went across the street. I looked back and he was lying in the middle of the street.”
It was a massive heart attack. The loss shattered the family and left young Winsome feeling adrift.
But the experience influenced her future in several ways. After immigrating to Canada, she trained as a holistic nutritionist and now counsels clients in Mississauga, Ont., on healthy eating and weight loss. And she is a long-time volunteer with Heart & Stroke.
Risk and vigilance
In addition to her family history, as a woman of Afro-Caribbean heritage, Winsome faces a higher risk of heart disease than Caucasian Canadian women. (That higher risk is shared by Chinese and South Asian women too.)
Putting yourself first is not selfish. It allows you to be at your optimum best.
She is vigilant about her own health. “I am very cognizant of healthy eating, exercise, healthy lifestyle; I don’t smoke and I never have.” She sees her doctor regularly and pays attention to risk factors including her blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. She tries to walk on her treadmill five times a week for up to an hour.
Now approaching her 60s, Winsome says, “Even with eating well and exercising, my cholesterol levels are creeping up.”
She has adjusted her eating habits in an effort to bring them down. “I eat more fibre. I aim for about 30 grams a day, a mix of soluble and insoluble fibre. I try not to eat a lot of added fats, especially saturated fats like cheese.”
So far Winsome has taken seven points off her cholesterol levels. “My doctor was impressed and I keep working at it.”
Watching the numbers
Meanwhile she counsels the women in her practice to be aware of their cardiovascular risk, especially after menopause. She urges them to keep a copy of their blood test results after every physical and keep them in a file, highlighting the numbers for cholesterol (both the good kind, HDL, and the bad, LDL), hemoglobin and blood sugar (fasting blood glucose).
These numbers can inch up unnoticed, Winsome says. “If your levels are within the healthy range, the doctor will say, ‘Oh you’re fine.’ But if you look back over five or 10 years, you notice that you’ve been creeping up all along.”
Women need to take care of themselves, she says.
“I know intrinsically a lot of us are nurturers; we love our families and we’re so supportive of others. But putting yourself first is not selfish. It allows you to be at your optimum best so you can be the best to everyone else.”
And Winsome is walking the talk, making her own health a priority. “I want to live a long time. I’ve got a lot to do.”