Honoring Her Sister Through Heart Health Education & Awareness

AHA funded researcher Adrian Grimes, Sandy Musacchio, Mayor Paul Soglin

AHA funded researcher Adrian Grimes, Sandy Musacchio, Mayor Paul Soglin

Sandy Musacchio never imagined a woman so full of life and energy could die so suddenly. But that’s exactly what happened when her sister passed away from a heart attack in her thirties, leaving her children and life behind. Now, Sandy shares her sister’s story and her own experience with hundreds of women and men she’s never met to spread the need for awareness and heart health. Musacchio hopes that her story can empower women to lead healthier lives and to go red in their own way.

Madison Magazine: How did you first become involved with the American Heart Association?

Sandy Musacchio: It started when I applied to be a part of the local cause sponsor, UW Health’s Go Red BetterU Challenge in 2011. After that I was invited to share my personal story at the annual Go Red For Women Luncheon in 2012. As I stood in front of a room full of women and men I had never known, I shared the story of my sister’s sudden death from a heart attack.

MM:  Did that experience motivate you to continue working with the AHA?

SM: Yes. I’ve learned how powerful sharing stories can be, and I hope to continue to help others to learn from my own family’s experience and to pay close attention to risk factors and warning signs associated with heart disease.

MM: What are you working on now with the organization?

SM: I was asked to lead Madison’s first-ever Go Red For Women Passion Committee. This is a grassroots group of women from Greater Dane County charged to spread awareness and educate women about their number one killer—heart disease. Most recently, we lit Madison red on February 1, which was National Wear Red Day.

MM: That must have an emotional experience for you.

SM: It was one of my favorite moments, lighting the Overture Center red on the tenth anniversary of National Wear Red Day alongside the American Heart Association, UW Health, Mayor Soglin, heart disease survivors and other community leaders. Mayor Soglin, my daughter and myself led the countdown to turn the Overture Center dome and downtown Madison our favorite color for the month—red.

MM: What did seeing the dome lit up mean to you personally?

SM: For me it was a beautiful tribute to the sister I lost to heart disease as well as all the women who fight hard everyday to stay strong and healthy.

MM: What do you hope to achieve through sharing your story?

SM: I hope that by sharing my own experience, others will take notice that young women with growing children can die without warning. If women know they are at risk, they have tremendous power to live longer lives. My constant motivation is to save even one family from the pain and loss my family experienced.

MM: Has sharing your story been helpful to you in coping with the loss of your sister?

SM: I’m proud and happy that my experience can benefit others. With the loving support of family and friends, I’ve been able to take my loss and use it to inform and engage other women. I’m also proud that I manage my own heart disease. For me, it’s a daily commitment to exercising, reducing stress, making meaningful connections and eating well.

MM: Your journey of paying it forward seems to be beneficial to you as well. What else about the American Heart Association keeps you involved with them?

SM: I have much respect for the AHA and the work they do to prevent premature death from heart disease. It’s pretty neat to volunteer for an organization that has a mission that will save lives! I love being a part of it with the Go Red Passion Committee and helping spread the Go Red message to women all over the city.

MM: You’re clearly devoted to the organization and its mission. Do the people you work with have anything to do with that?

SM: The women that make up the Go Red Passion Committee are the best! They’re generous, strong, clear and capable. Some of the women are heart disease survivors or caregivers, and others just want Madison to be a healthier place for their families to grow up. Our gatherings are always a lot of fun and very positive with lots of laughter.

MM: Speaking of those women who want to make Madison healthier, how does AHA make the Madison area a better place to live?

SM: The American Heart Association is located in so many pockets of our community that people don’t see generally like our schools, businesses, through research funded at the UW, our city parks and pathways, our smoke free air, in the Capitol and of course setting better heart and stroke guidelines for our hospitals.

MM: That’s a tremendous amount of progress the organization has made. What are you working on to continue fighting heart disease?

SM: Most of my work is to build awareness of heart disease among women in our community. It seems that there are many misconceptions around women and heart disease; women need to know the truth so that they can make informed choices and live longer, healthier lives.

MM: What would you say to others looking to get involved in the fight against heart disease?

SM: Please join us! The American Heart Association and the Go Red Passion Committee are friendly and always supportive. There are so many ways to share your talents and experiences, whatever they are.  Plus, the work is very flexible so that women can put their families and health first, bring their children along to meetings and help spread the word on their own time. And, if the Passion Committee isn’t for them, the AHA has so many other opportunities for individuals and organizations to get involved.

Learn how you can join in the fight against heart disease by visiting heart.org or contacting Brittany Lee at Brittany.lee@heart.org for more information. 

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