'Women need to know:' Kalispell woman becomes champion of heart health

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Emmy Ort of Kalispell with her daughter Grace outside their home on Friday, October 31. Ort recently became a WomenHeart Champion after graduating from a symposium at the Mayo Clinic. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

It’s been nearly two years since Emmy Ort had an emergency Caesarean section 37 weeks into her pregnancy, followed immediately by double-bypass heart surgery.

After suffering a rare pregnancy-related heart attack while waiting in line at the Kalispell Post Office on Dec. 18, 2012, Ort was rushed to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where a diverse medical team delivered her daughter, Grace Joy, and then tackled the delicate heart surgery.

It was an extraordinary situation in which all the caregivers were in all the right places at the right time.

That Ort survived is nothing short of a miracle, and she’s ever mindful of that blessing.

These days Ort, 39, is a busy mother of five and helps her husband, Jeff, run a nonprofit mission program called Camp Promise. She’s on her own mission, too, as a community educator bringing awareness to women’s risk of heart disease.

After recently graduating from the prestigious WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Ort is a WomenHeart Champion. She’s one of 41 women from around the country — all heart disease survivors — who were chosen through this year’s competitive process to attend the symposium and return home to educate, advocate and support their communities on the issue of women and heart disease.

Through the nonprofit WomenHeart coalition for women with heart disease, Ort and other “champions” join a network of 650 women who are “boots on the ground” in the fight against heart disease.

Ort’s heart problem was diagnosed as spontaneous coronary artery dissection, a rare condition that causes the inner layer of the coronary artery to split. The condition causes blood to seep between the artery layers, forming a blockage and starving the heart muscle.

She has a 17 percent chance of another artery split occurring. There have been moments of fearfulness, but her Christian faith, she said, has given her the strength “to walk that rough road.”

“I feel I’ve learned in a new, deeper way” the blessings that can come “when you turn your heart to God’s good hand,” she said.

Ort recalled playing “God Spy,” a game of looking for the good in tough situations when she attended Bible camp as a youth.

“It requires a heart of gratitude,” she said, adding that the aftermath of her heart surgery has been her own version of God Spy.

Ort had a wonderful support system of family, friends and fellow church members in place when she underwent her emergency surgeries. Not everyone has that same support, she said, and that was an underlying reason for getting involved in advocacy for women’s heart health.

“If women don’t have that strong support system, they’ll sink,” she said.

To keep on top of her own heart condition, Ort has tapped into a support network for spontaneous coronary artery dissection patients that includes an online support group via Facebook. Mayo Clinic is conducting two new studies of artery dissection and is unraveling the rare heart condition that often strikes young, otherwise healthy people — mostly women.

After completing her rigorous training at the Mayo Clinic, Ort is a fountain of pertinent information and statistics about women’s heart health.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, she stressed.

Ort was surprised to learn that in most cardiovascular studies, only 20 to 25 percent of the participants have been female.

“There’s an evidence gap,” she said. “We’re not just little men. There are all these different things that are different about women. Women need to know the risk factors.”

Women are 79 percent more likely to call 911 for someone else, but only 46 percent would call for help for themselves, Ort said, noting how women often ignore the warning signs of a heart attack. And women are not as active as men in cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack, she pointed out.

As a WomenHeart Champion, Ort’s mission is threefold: Educate women about the risk of heart disease; advocate for research funding and policy changes; and support other women. She plans to schedule “lunch and learn” sessions in the Kalispell area for informational group meetings, and she’s available to speak to local organizations about women’s heart health.

She will attend health fairs and plans to encourage women going through cardiac rehab.

Another part of her local mission will be finding volunteers to knit or crochet red scarves that can be delivered to hospitalized women who are battling heart disease. The red scarves, along with WomenHeart “Red Bag of Courage” packets of valuable information, will be delivered to remind women they’re not alone in dealing with the illness, Ort said.

While she’s advocating for other women, Ort said she also has seen the need to advocate for herself.

“I do wear out,” she said about her busy daily schedule. “I recognize my limitations. You have to be willing to ask for help, and to admit you need help takes a lot.”

 To contact Ort about a group presentation or to make red scarves, email her at montanaorts@bresnan.net.

 Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

 

 

Emmy Ort with her nearly two year old daughter Grace Joy at their home in Kalispell, on Friday, October 31. Ort recently became a WomenHeart Champion. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

 

Emmy Ort with her nearly two year old daughter Grace Joy at their home in Kalispell, on Friday, October 31. Ort recently became a WomenHeart Champion. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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