Access Hollywood’s Shaun Robinson, 50, had her world knocked off its axis in September 2012, by the death of close friend, Michael Clarke Duncan. “His death took me, and so many of his friends and family, by surprise. That was my first introduction to the realization that there’s a difference between sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and a heart attack,” says Robinson.
The Emmy-award winning journalist, anchor, and correspondent signed on as spokesperson for the Heart Rhythm Society. “I want people to realize there is a difference between SCA and a heart attack and that they may even have some of the risk factors for SCA.”
As a result, Robinson had to deal with another round of shocking news: she was also at risk for SCA. “I was surprised to learn I have some of the same risks, like a family history of heart disease.”
According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs.
The NHLBI stresses SCA is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs if blood flow to part of the heart muscle is blocked. During a heart attack, the heart usually doesn't suddenly stop beating. SCA, however, may happen after or during recovery from a heart attack. Unless SCA is treated within minutes, death is often the result.
A study conducted by Heart Rhythm Society in August 2012 revealed that African Americans are at greater risk of dying from SCA (sudden cardiac arrest). However, anyone with heart disease has a higher risk of SCA.
Robinson says heart disease runs rampant in her family. But despite asking questions for a living as a journalist, she didn’t learn just how prevalent heart disease is among her family members until her friend’s death.
“My mom’s dad had heart disease, which claimed his life.” says Robinson. Others in her family also battled heart disease.
“My grandmother used to carry nitroglycerin pills in a bottle she stuck in her bra when I was little girl. I remember her saying ‘this is grandma’s heart medicine’ but, at the time, I didn’t realize that what my grandparents had could also affect my health.”
Joining the “Arrest the Risk” campaign for the Heart Rhythm Society, led Robison on a quest to learn all she could about her family’s heart health. She started by asking her parents about their - and their parents’ - health.
“I’m still finding out about my family’s health because I was one of those people who didn’t think heart disease would affect me,” she says.
Robinson admits it can be difficult to flesh out your family’s health history. “A lot of people in my parents’ generation don’t want to talk about how their parents or grandparents died because it reminds them of their own mortality,” she says.
To open the lines of communication, Robinson says she approached her mom with the question, “Can I ask about grandpa? Can you tell me a little bit about what he passed away from and health problems he had.”
“You may have to approach the topic gently, but you also need to stress that it’s important everyone in the family have this information. It could save a loved one from heart disease, heart attack or SCA,” says Robinson.
In addition to asking her family questions, Robinson says she keeps her heart healthy by asking her doctor a lot of questions, too.
“It’s easy to sometimes shoot the breeze with the doctor, talking about kids, holidays, etc. But then the time is up and you didn’t get a chance to talk about important health matters,” says Robinson.
To make sure there’s plenty of time to talk about her heart – and overall health – Robinson says she’s trained herself to first talk about any questions or concerns and then chit chat. “I take a list of things I want to cover to make sure I get everything in.”
Regular exercise and a healthy diet are also staples in Robinson’s arsenal to keep her heart healthy. “I exercise about three times a week,” she says.
But food choices available to busy adults are worrisome to Robinson. “It’s upsetting that when I go home to Detroit to see my family, on every corner there are restaurants with signs touting fried food. Everything is deep-fried and then fried again. That type of eating is killing people,” she says.
Robinson acknowledges fried, fast food seems like a convenient option, but stresses it’s not the only game in town. “I’m trying to encourage my family, and everyone, to look for healthy choices, even if they’re not right down the street. Go to the store and get the ingredients for a salad instead of grabbing a fried, fast food meal,” she says.
Robinson says she tries to eat salad regularly and sticks to baking lean meats like chicken instead of frying them. “I like flavors and taste so I use fresh veggies and make a salad with fat-free dressing that’s flavorful.”
She also is committed to continue asking questions. “Talking about heart health and SCA is one of the best ways we’ll all stay educated and ahead of the deadly affects,” says Robinson.
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