Star Jones and her 8-year-old Maltese, Pinky.
Star Jones, 50, wears many hats. She’s a lawyer, journalist, writer, and television personality. But there’s one role she’s most proud of. “I’m a proud heart disease survivor,” she says.
In March 2010, Jones underwent open heart surgery to correct a faulty valve. “It was preventative,” she says. “The doctor said I needed a valve repaired or I could require valve replacement in six months. And if I didn’t have the valve replaced, I could need a heart transplant in two years.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, age, family history, smoking, poor diet, high blood pressure and being overweight are all risk factors of heart disease. Race also plays a role; African-American women are more likely to die from heart disease than women of other races, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
Jones had several risk factors.
In addition to being African-American, she was once obese and says she had an unhealthy diet. Heart disease also runs in her family.
“There’s no question we have cardiovascular disease in our family. Women in my family have died from stroke and heart attack. My grandmother, who is still alive and 94, had a quadruple bypass in her 80s. The female members of my family tend to have obesity issues, too. My mother and four of her eight sisters are obese or morbidly obese. So are several of my first cousins, my sister and I were, too. My mother has adult onset diabetes, too.”
In 2003, Jones, who stands at 5 feet, 5 inches, says she took control of her health and started to work on living a full life. She had gastric bypass surgery because she says her entire adult life she was obese or morbidly obese.
“I went from weighing 175 when I went to college to, at the height of my weight, 307 pounds,” she says.
She also got up off the couch.
“I got into a major exercise routine. I did Pilates and had a trainer that worked with me.”
Which is why the symptoms of heart disease were confusing. “I felt great and knew what it finally felt like to be healthy. But when I started to get very fatigued, got heart palpitations that felt like someone was punching me in the chest, and having shortness of breath, I didn’t think it was my heart. I thought it could be related to the gastric bypass,” she says.
Post-surgery and three months of cardiac rehab, Jones continued on the path of eating heart-healthy foods like lean proteins and low-fat foods. She also continued to remain physically active.
But she realized she needed to better manage her stress, the enemy of any heart, especially one that’s been through surgery. “I knew if I didn’t reduce my stress, I’d have heart issues,” she says.
One of the stress relievers, Jones says she was prescribed an emotional support animal. And that’s when her four-legged lifesaver walked into her life.
Under the 2010 ADA regulations, a “service animal” is defined as any “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
Jones says she initially got Pinky, her 8-year-old Maltese, as a puppy because she was a cute little bundle that stole her heart and could fit in her purse. “Little did I know she would one day be prescribed for me as a service animal and "heart health" aid to help maintain my blood pressure and reduce stress,” says Jones.
“I can't believe for so many years I never even liked dogs,” says Jones. “There’s nothing better than when you walk into a house and there’s a tiny dependent greeting you who doesn’t care if you have two trials to cover or someone says something nasty about you. All a dog wants is to cuddle. She’s really the best thing that I could ever, ever have,” says Jones.
Jones says she can’t begin to imagine life without Pinky. “She has become so much an extension of me; she is like my child. Sure, like any kid, she’s a lot of work, but she keeps my life in perspective and gives me unconditional love. You don’t see Pinky getting stressed about too much, except the groomer and those bows I make her wear, maybe. When Pinky and I are together, there is the absence of stress in my life and there’s something beautifully healthy about that.”
Pinky goes everywhere with Jones.
“She’s as happy in her pet carrier on the plane as she is having lunch at our favorite French bistro.”
Instead of looking back and thinking “I wish I took healthy steps earlier in life” or “why didn’t I adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle sooner/before my surgery,” Jones chooses to look forward.
“I find it a better use of life to look ahead and prepare for my future, than to look back and regret my past. The reality is, I was a successful, smart professional woman and yet I was not taking care of my own health. I look back now and am shocked at how unhealthy I was and how unhappy I was. I think a lot of women get caught up in their careers, family, friends and daily responsibilities and we end up putting ourselves last.”
Unhealthy eating and complete lack of physical activity almost cost Jones her life—a pattern she says she won’t repeat.
“I will never get to that point again because I learned the hard way how important it is to take care of your heart and health. I tell others to eat less and move more because I know it works; and this is what keeps me healthy. I’m focused on living a healthy, happy and fulfilled life.”
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