Melissa Hartwick and Jacqueline Martinz, two young women in Toronto, share something nobody wants: a family history of heart disease.
Melissa lost her father to a heart attack in 2015. She wasn’t prepared for the devastating news when the phone call from her mother came late on a Monday night. Her 52-year-old father was involved in his local sports community through ringette and slo-pitch.
“It didn’t make sense that such an active person would have a fatal heart attack without any prior physical signs or symptoms,” Melissa recalls. “It was a complete shock to our family.”
It was a rainy spring afternoon in 2016 when Jacqueline learned that her father had a heart attack. Shortly after, she waited anxiously alongside her mother and brother while he underwent bypass surgery. When he returned home, Jacqueline watched as her father transformed his health with a special diet and exercise over the following months.
“His recovery period was eye-opening,” she says. “By speaking to doctors and doing research, I realized that making even small changes to your lifestyle can have positive long-term effects on your health.”
This is an opportunity for us to speak up.
A common misconception about heart disease is that it only affects the elderly. In fact, both young and old Canadians face this major health issue. Regardless of age, nine in 10 people have at least one risk factor. It’s important to remember that nearly 80% of premature heart disease is preventable through healthy behaviours.
Focus on prevention
Driven by their personal experiences, Melissa and Jacqueline were eager to encourage others to focus on prevention. They joined the Young Leaders Committee, established in 2017 by Heart & Stroke to engage young professionals and develop the next generation of philanthropists.
“For me, it’s been a great way to connect with people in their 20s and 30s who have similar shared experiences and interests,” says Melissa. “I’m very proud of the work that the Committee has done so far.”
Past events have brought researchers and doctors face-to-face with young professionals and introduced people to different exercise options and ways to meet fitness goals.
In 2020, Melissa is the chair of the Young Leaders, and Jacqueline is vice-chair. They’re excited to be guiding the development of the Young Leaders and working closely with highly skilled, passionate young professionals on the committee to execute initiatives centered on prevention.
Women’s health a priority
“A key priority is women’s heart health, which Heart & Stroke has been focusing on for the past few years,” says Jacqueline. “There is a lot of work to do in that area and as two young women with a family history of heart disease, this is an opportunity for us to speak up. People need to understand how the signs of heart disease are different for women and men.”
In addition to women’s heart health, the Committee has developed a partnership with Equinox to highlight the importance of regular exercise and build a dynamic team to participate in Ride for Heart.
They will also continue participating in advocacy efforts on behalf of Heart & Stroke. Melissa and Jacqueline were among the committee members who attended Heart at the Park, where they spoke to Ontario MPPs about vaping and funding for health programs. Ambitious plans are underway for the fall and winter too.
“We’re looking forward to sharing more details about everything that’s coming up,” says Melissa. “Young professionals in Toronto who are interested in what we’re doing should definitely get in touch.”