BRENTWOOD (KPIX 5) Heart disease kills one in three women every year. It’s even more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. This week’s Jefferson Award winner has made it her life’s mission to get the word out.
As a personal trainer and fitness instructor at Delta Valley Health Club in Brentwood, Allison Harris appeared perfectly healthy. Then, while vacationing in Mexico ten years ago, she had a heart attack.
“Both of my arms were radiating,” she remembered. “I thought maybe a pinched nerve in my neck or something.”
Her family had a history of heart trouble.. but she didn’t realize the risk to women.
“I just thought it’s never going to happen to me because I don’t have high cholesterol, I exercise every day,” she explained. “Why don’t people know that heart disease is the number one killer of women? Why, when you ask anybody would they say breast cancer? And that’s when I felt the need to take some action.”
So for the last seven years, she’s held a zumba fundraiser to raise awareness and money for the American Heart Association.
“I thought let’s exercise our hearts and raise awareness for heart disease!”
Besides the zumba and silent auction, Harris added a fashion show the night before. In all, she’s raised more than $60,000 for heart disease education and research, making her the highest individual donor to the American Heart Associations’ annual Go Red for Women Bay Area campaign.
Gianna Pascale, of Go Red for Women Greater Bay Area, says Harris shares a powerful life story.
“I can’t thank her enough,” Pascale said. “To be spreading awareness to these people every year through this event, it’s huge.”
Harris’ words were a wake-up call to volunteer Dawn O’Brien, who dropped 45 pounds and significantly lowered her cholesterol.
“I just want to be heart healthy and she’s inspired me,” O’Brien said.
The good news for women who take Harris’ message to heart: 80% of heart disease cases are preventable with diet and exercise.
“It’s really been worth it!” Harris said of the whole program.
So for raising awareness and money for women’s heart health, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Allison Harris.