By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The national American Heart Association “Wear Red for Women” campaign is about saving lives.
The cause helps educate women concerning risks for developing heart disease and what actions to take to improve heart health. The red dress has become a symbol to bring awareness of women’s unique risks for heart disease and to encourage women to proactively protect their hearts.
Mary Ruppert-Stroescu, a professor in the Oklahoma State University Design, Housing and Merchandising Department, challenged her apparel students to create red dresses. Eight investigated the issue of women’s heart health in creating their collections. Designers Anastasia Duncan, Lauren Page, Ashley Hatchel, Rachel Horvath, Meghan Hope, Hannah Harrison-Keepers, Bonnie Nabors and Moriah Slavens met with survivors to create the red dresses.
“Students talked to Oklahoma women survivors of heart disease — to integrate into their dresses principles of emotional design generated by the issue of heart health,” Ruppert-Stroescu said.
With cardio issues springing up quickly, and often silently, these women’s stories of survival are our stories, said OSU senior Hannah Harrison-Keepers.
“Each dress draws from the stories of a heart health survivor. These dresses are crafted to reflect their struggle and triumph. The blood red color signifies heart health,” she said.
The finished products, as well as artwork and non-textile projects created by OSU design and production students are on display throughout February at the a.k.a. Gallery in Oklahoma City’s Paseo District. Ruth Myers in Nichols Hills and the Oklahoma Heart Hospital awarded cash prizes with Rachel Horvath capturing best of show evening gown and Bonnie Nabors earning an award of merit. Lynae Dowdell was recognized for her non-textile design. Stillwater High School graduate, Carissa Wilson Gabilheri, captured the top award for the non-textile challenge.
“My red dress was created from Ruth Myers shopping bags, bubble wrap, duct tape and other random recycled materials with velcro closures,” said Gabilheri, an OSU sophomore.
Ruppert-Stroescu said sometimes creativity is enhanced when you don’t have to worry about sewing, developing more of an art project. She said awareness of heart disease prevention was a big part of the learning process.
“Heart disease looks very different in women than men,” said Dr. Christine Rattin, Oklahoma Heart Hospital cardiologist. “Women’s symptoms of heart disease and even heart attack are less about crushing pain in the chest as with men and more about subtle symptoms such as shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, pressure in the chest, arms or jaw, nausea and dizziness. Women have to take control of their own heart health by knowing their symptoms and their risk factors such as a family history, smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”
Harrison-Keepers said she learned about heart disease from several places. Her family members are survivors of heart problems.
“My grandmother has atrial fibrillation and it caused her to have a stroke. She has to wear a pacemaker,” she said. “My cousin also has heart issues that almost killed him at 17. So heart health strikes near to home for me. There is a dire need for all to be aware that at any point in life they can have heart attacks and heart problems — and need to seek help if they think anything is wrong with their bodies.”
In drawing the sketches for her dress design, she incorporated growing floral patterns to signify the continued stories survivors will live and tell. One woman’s problem involved a birth defect of an upside-down heart and another was conscious of her scar from surviving a heart attack.
“She was proud of her zipper — a scar that is left after heart surgery so I designed a dress that had a zipper as an accent,” Harrison-Keepers said.
“The leadership dress is the story of a young woman who had a heart condition that kept her from being able to bear children,” she said. “A new medical advancement allowed doctors to fix her heart.”
Using fabrics of peachskin, chiffon, metallic embroidered polyester lace and cotton, her dress displayed at a.k.a. Gallery has a diamond over the stomach to represent life and fertility inspired by the story of a woman who longed to have children but was prevented from doing so by a heart problem. Harrison-Keepers said after doctors fixed the young woman’s heart problem, she was able to “have the baby she always wanted and now is a proud mother who will live on to tell her daughter the importance of heart health.”
The Heart Truth
• More women die from heart disease than all cancers combined.
• Oklahoma has the second highest rate of heart disease related deaths among women in the nation.
• Nearly 60 million Americans suffer from cardiovascular disease today.
• Every 29 seconds an American will suffer a coronary event.
• About every 60 seconds, someone dies from heart disease.
• One in three women are killed by heart disease.
• Heart disease is the number one killer of women as well as men.
• More than 64 percent of women who died suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.
Source: Oklahoma Heart Hospital