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Women In Wellness: Andrea Engfer of ‘American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women’ on Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Many women think heart disease and strokes only occur in older people, and we don’t need to take care of ourselves at a young age. The reality is it can happen at any age. For me, it was high blood pressure during my pregnancy. I wasn’t aware a stroke could happen while pregnant; my doctor never went over the possibility and signs of a stroke. I hope my story can bring more awareness to potential mothers.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Engfer.

Andrea was in the final trimester of her pregnancy when she was told she had preeclampsia, a condition usually characterized by the onset of high blood pressure that is lasting and can lead to various complications. Five days after giving birth to her daughter, Andrea had a stroke. “I knew I wanted to share my story, but I didn’t know how. Six months post-stroke I ran a 5k for the AHA and then I knew how to share.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Five days after giving birth to my daughter I suffered a stroke. The last 3 weeks of my pregnancy I started to have high blood pressure, also known as preeclampsia. That morning I woke up with a headache that became the worst migraine of my life. My husband took me to an urgent care and on the way, I let out a huge scream. After that I don’t remember anything — I became unresponsive. We arrived and nurses tried to take my blood pressure — My husband recalls looking at the blood pressure and it was 200/130. The doctor said, “We need to call 911 now!”

I spent 12 days in a medically induced coma and was then transported to a rehab hospital. Due to my stroke, I now have a vision deficit. I had to relearn how to read, write, talk and walk. I had to start all over.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Since becoming a 2022 Real Woman for the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Go Red for Women movement, so many doors have been opened to amazing opportunities. I’ve been able to share my story and inspire others through the nationwide Go Red for Women movement.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Strokes can happen at any age, to anyone. Don’t take your health for granted. When you are young you kind of think you are invincible, that you don’t need to see a doctor or worry about your health. But the reality is that your health needs to be a priority early on in life.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

Go Red for Women is AHA’s signature initiative to end heart disease and stroke in women all over the world. People everywhere are coming together to act and stand together against heart disease and stroke in women. Through my involvement with Go Red for Women, I’ve learned that cardiovascular disease continues to be a woman’s greatest health threat, claiming the lives of one in three women. It’s important that we raise awareness of this so women do not have to go through what I did. I was supposed to be enjoying being a new mom. Instead, I was fighting for my life and that is something my family and I will never forget.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

My main lifestyle tweak is drinking more water. I drink at least 100 oz of water every day and always start my mornings with an 8 oz glass. Our bodies are typically dehydrated in the morning, so drinking water first thing in the morning will help wake your body up. Water helps with energy, bloating and your skin appearance.

Another top lifestyle tweak is practicing self-care. It may seem simple but, it’s much harder. I’m a stay-at-home mom to a 2-year-old toddler and found it’s very easy to put everyone but myself first. I’ve been seeing a therapist since last July and I can’t explain how much better I feel. When I can unleash all this buildup of thoughts and concerns, it’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

My final lifestyle tweak is going for a quick 10-minute walk. I breathe in the fresh air and empty my mind — or try to.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love to organize a women’s expo where women can learn how to work on self-care. It would offer different workshops to show women different ways we can prioritize and take care of things like mental health, exercise and general wellbeing. I think women would benefit from carving out time to do things like yoga, meditation, exercise, healthy cooking & more. Learning how to balance — especially for the moms always on the go — your own wellness with your loved ones is half the battle!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Many women think heart disease and strokes only occur in older people, and we don’t need to take care of ourselves at a young age. The reality is it can happen at any age. For me, it was high blood pressure during my pregnancy. I wasn’t aware a stroke could happen while pregnant; my doctor never went over the possibility and signs of a stroke. I hope my story can bring more awareness to potential mothers.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

In April 2021, I celebrated my 1-year stroke anniversary. My husband and I went out to dinner, and I felt happy. The next day I suffered a seizure. I never had a seizure before, but I was told this could be a risk due to my stroke. It was terrifying, I thought I was having another stroke. I started to see spots in my right eye. I was unable to use my right hand and I forgot how to use my phone. Luckily someone was nearby and called 911. I spent 5 hours in the ER and the doctor explained I had a seizure. I thought ‘all this progress I have made, and this seizure stopped me dead in its tracks. A huge step back.’ Depression set in. I had been ignoring the signs because I was doing so well, or so I thought. I gained weight and cried all the time, feeling lost, scared and confused. I started seeing a therapist at my neurologist’s request. I knew I had to take it one day at a time. At the beginning of this year, I had made a huge progress in my health. Since January, I have lost almost 40 lbs. I want other women to know we may fall, and it may be more than once, but we must get back up. We are fighters. I am a fighter.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

For more information on AHA’s Go Red for Women movement, visit www.goredforwomen.org

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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