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BY MICHELLE L. QUINN , POST-TRIBUNE CORRESPONDENT
MERRILLVILLE -- Heather Sienkiewicz, of Alsip, Ill., doesn't invite people over for pizza anymore because she is certain they would find her own homemade version gross.
After living through congestive heart failure at 24, however, the fact that her version consists of no more than crescent roll dough, no-sodium spaghetti sauce and the smallest amount of no-fat cheese suits her just fine. It doesn't even taste remotely like the original, but she'll sacrifice taste for her life any day of the week.
"I thought it was a bladder infection," said Sienkewicz, now 25. "I never thought I'd be in the hospital with heart failure at my age, and it didn't sink in how serious my condition really was."
Sienkiewicz and her mother, Cheryl Oostema, were among the 350 people celebrating the American Heart Association's Annual Go Red for Women luncheon Thursday at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza. Sponsored by the Heart Association, ArcelorMittal, Methodist Hospitals and Sisters of St. Francis Health Services, connected women with information, screenings, vendors and a question-and-answer session with area doctors over women and heart disease.
The luncheon also provided the women and their loved ones inspiration on overcoming heart disease going forward. And if anyone knows about going forward with heart disease, it's Donna Hartley, a Tahoe City, Calif., motivational speaker who provided the keynote address.
After surviving a March 1, 1978, plane crash and, 23 years later, a Stage 3 melanoma, one would think heart disease would not phase her. But by the time she got to the doctor because she was feeling "odd," her aortic valve was damaged well past the point of being alive.
After losing her grandparents, mother, father and stepfather to heart attacks and strokes, it nearly scared the life out of her.
T.J. Pruzin, 27, of Crown Point implored the women to take care of themselves perhaps even better than their own families. He lost his mother to a heart attack six years ago, and it's still a foreign concept to him.
"It's hard to say the words, 'My mom's dead,' " Pruzin said. "Take care of yourself like you take care of your family: Like gold."
"Courtesy of Post-Tribune 2010. Reprinted with permission."