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Meet Carrie Mortlock and Learn Why She 'Goes' Red

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Carrie Mortlock

There's a lot of talk about inequality between men and women, but there is one area in particular where women are leading in record numbers: heart disease. And while new statics out in late 2014 reveal that cases are declining, heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of women.

The American Heart Association started an initiative 12 years ago to address this issue. Called the Go Red For Women initiative in southwestern Michigan, it has been embraced and the message has thrived.
The initiative consists of various events and displays of support such as the National Wear Red Day on Friday, Feb. 6, buildings and landmarks that "Go Red," and retailers such as Macy's who coordinate awareness campaigns for their clients.

Also on Friday, Feb. 6, southwestern Michigan will host one of the most vibrant Go Red For Women Luncheons in the country. More than 500 area women - and men - will gather to network, hear expert medical speakers including Dr. Frank Saltiel from the Borgess Heart Institute, and learn what they can do to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

We asked a local survivor, Carrie Mortlock, to share why Go Red For Women is so important. Her hope is that other women might not have to experience what she has been through.

Mortlock Shares her Story

I woke up one Sunday in March 2010 and decided to stop smoking. Cold turkey. Earlier that same year, I started working with a personal trainer.

All of this was because I had my 40th birthday and decided I wanted to live a longer life. I needed to become healthy again by eating better and exercising. I signed up for my first running race and ran my first 5k on May 5, 2012.

Carrie Active

I did everything the right way, followed the plan, and made the transformation slowly and healthfully.

Then, on Dec. 5, 2013, I woke up with a sharp pain at the top of my quad in my left leg. I had a hard time walking that day and thought I just pulled a muscle. I stopped running for a few weeks giving it time to heal. Two weeks went by and it didn't get any better.

I finally gave in and made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. The MRI showed a stress fracture. The decision was to avoid surgery and place me on crutches for a month and keep weight off the left leg and hope it healed.

After my first week of crutches, I was tired, more tired than I had ever felt before. Not like me at all. I thought I must just be coming down with the flu or something.

That is the last thing I remember until I woke up in the hospital two days later. On Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, two blood clots traveled to both lungs and I suffered a double pulmonary embolism. Because it caused lack of oxygen to my heart, I suffered a cardiac arrest and underwent CPR for about three minutes.

About three days later in the hospital surrounded by my family, I started asking more questions. The reality was I had awaken to my alarm, taken a shower and was fully dressed when I collapsed to the floor. I remember none of it. Thankfully my husband was home and called 9-1-1.

Carrie Mortlock Hospital

Now at the hospital, I was recovering and moved out of ICU. Then, on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, I suffered two strokes. One affected the right side of my brain and the other the occipital lobe in the back of my brain that left me visually impaired and with limited use of my left hand. My body was creating blood clots, and we could not figure out why.

It was a hematologist/oncologist who solved the mystery and saved my life. He said the last time he saw something similar, it was cancer of the female reproductive organs. They ran tests and the next day told me my uterus had tripled its normal size. Whether cancer or not, it had to come out and as soon as possible. On Feb. 14, I had a hysterectomy.

Finally, there was good news when they told me post-surgery that there was no cancer evident anywhere else in my body.

It was the perfect storm. I look back and it's hard to believe. A hip fracture, a double pulmonary embolism, a cardiac arrest, two strokes and a hysterectomy... all in 30 days. I finally made it home on Monday, Feb. 17.

How did I get through all of this? God was not ready to take me. It was not my time. I must have more to do here; there is a reason I am still here.

The reality is I suffered a brain injury. You would not know it by looking at me. My vision has improved a little every day and I am about 80 percent recovered. I have two blind spots in my left field of vision.

When I hold onto something in my left hand, it shakes. If I spend too much time on one task, my left hand freezes up.

I have a hard time processing information if there are too many things going on at one time. I sometimes forget about conversations and at times have a hard time finding a simple word. It's difficult to articulate sometimes.

But, I can live with all of this, it's my new normal! I am a miracle and I like to reference the new American Heart Association tag line - Life is Why. My Life is Why, My Husband is Why, My Family is Why!

What You Can Do

Mortlock shares her story in order to make Kalamazoo-area women aware that they can be at risk of heart disease and stroke.

Learn how you can get involved in Go Red For Women by finding resources at www.heart.org. Learn more about the Go Red For Women Luncheon in southwestern Michigan. (Note that tickets are required for this event.) Get updates on Facebook. And search for #SWMIGoesRed for a total roundup of information!

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