WEST ORANGE, NJ — Hundreds of women and various male supporters recently attended the 10th annual Northern New Jersey Go Red for Women luncheon as part of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) “Go Red for Women” movement, which encourages women to take charge of their heart health in order to live longer, healthier lives.

The event, held at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in West Orange, was filled with education, celebration and empowering women to take charge of their health.

According to the AHA, cardiovascular diseases continue to be a woman’s greatest health threat, claiming the lives of one in three women each year, while 55,000 more females than males are affected by stroke each year. During the heart-healthy luncheon, local women affected personally by heart disease or stroke shared their stories, including six AHA “ambassadors” who shared their “six-word stories” as well as keynote “Open Your Heart” speaker and stroke survivor, Patty Petrula, a senior associate with KPMG.

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Event chair Stacy Quinn, a stroke survivor and longtime AHA volunteer, was also among the many women who shared their stories of survival, provided health tools and resources and wore red to fight against heart disease and strokes in women.

“This year’s program was really geared toward the audience hearing the stories of these amazing women who essentially are here today because of research that the AHA funds,” said Quinn, a Belleville resident and Deputy Director at Bayer. “When we were designing the program, it was really important that their voices be heard and that people know that they’re here and have more time in this world because of research.”

The first time Quinn attended the luncheon in the aftermath of her own stroke, the survivor said she stood in the corner and refused to talk about her experience. However, as she began speaking with other survivors and hearing stories that were “more complicating and more devastating” than her own, Quinn said it was in that moment that her healing began.

“At that point, I really didn’t think that people understood what I was going through, even in my own family,” she said. “For me, it’s really important to not only raise money through the luncheon, but to also give those survivors a place where they can connect and people can understand what they’re going through firsthand.”

In addition to hearing from Petrula—whose speech was “really moving and inspiring, according to Quinn—another major highlight of the event was the new addition of the “six-word stories.” Each of the women who presented was a survivor who was asked to represent her personal experience in only six words.

“One in five women will have a stroke in her life time and most people don’t know that, so I think this really helped paint the picture that we were looking to,” said Quinn, who explained that it was “quite impactful to hear from six very different women and what their story represented.”

Following the event, Quinn said the main feedback was that hearing the stories helped those who make donations “put a face to the women that it helps and the women in our community.”

“There was a lost of teamwork that went into this event,” said Quinn. “There was a great executive leadership team made up of cardiologists, community leaders and survivors that helped put this together, so really the community came together to put this luncheon together. We got a lot of feedback that this was one of our best luncheons and I think it was because we told a lot of stories of these women who you would look at and never be able to tell that they had a heart attack or have a hole in their heart or had a stroke.”

Quinn also had the honor of presenting the AHA of Northern New Jersey’s first “Heart of Gold” award to Louis LaSalle, Senior Vice President of Corporate External Affairs at RWJBarnabas Health.

For more than five decades, LaSalle has been a champion of the AHA, including being a member of the AHA Board of Directors, a member of the Go Red for Women Executive Leadership Team and the chair for the AHA Circle of Red Society. Quinn, who shared a personal encounter with LaSalle prior to presenting him with the award, said that “everyone knows Lou, and Lou has a heart of gold.”

“He’s a fundraiser, educator, lifesaver and leader,” said Quinn. “He’s also our Go Red guy—he supports all of our events, our programs and our ambassadors, including me.

“I’ll never forget meeting Lou for the first time when I was still coping with the aftermath of my stroke and almost dying. At the time, it was still hard for me to talk about it, but I shared my story with Lou. He held both my hands and told me everything would be okay.

“‘You’re not going anywhere because the world needs you, we need you,’ he told me with that warm smile that melts your heart…Lou then said, ‘Stacy, you are why we ‘Go Red’ and do this work.’”

During the event, Quinn stood alongside her survivor sisters, who have all survived cardiovascular disease and/or stroke, as they reminded those in attendance why it is so important to “know your numbers" as well as the warning signs of heart attack and stroke.

In order to “treat, beat and prevent cardiovascular diseases,” Quin said that women should understand family health history, know their numbers and make lifestyle changes, such as exercising, eating smart and managing their blood pressure.

“Risk factors that are within women’s control include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, poor diet, obesity/overweight and diabetes,” said Quinn. “You have to be the CEO of your own health. This means knowing your numbers, putting your own health first, and if something doesn’t feel right getting the proper medical attention because you know your body best.

"In my case, I ignored stroke symptoms for 10 days because I thought stroke mainly affected older men—not young, healthy women. This thinking almost killed me.”

In this year’s “Go Red Experience” networking room, guests enjoyed “Making Science Make Sense” with Bayer Consumer Health, making their own smoothies while riding the Fender Blender Smoothie bike with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), CPR demonstrations presented by East Orange General Hospital, a tribute wall honoring loved ones, photo booth fun and more.

The Go Red for Women luncheon is sponsored nationally by CVS Health and locally by RWJBarnabas Health, Bayer, Horizon BCBS, News12 NJ, NJ Biz and TAPinto.net.

For more information, visit nnjgored.heart.org.