Darla Long is a fun, energetic, and loving person. Her family and friends agree that life is better with Darla in it. Darla also has a congenital heart defect.

In her teens, a doctor discovered that Darla had been born with a heart defect called aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing of the aortic valve. At that time, he was not concerned that there would be any issues, as she was otherwise healthy, and encouraged her to continue to stay active.

Years later during a run, Darla noticed some shortness of breath and chest tightness. She originally blamed it on the hot summer, but the symptoms persisted. Darla learned that the heart defect she was born with was now causing major issues with the function of her heart. She needed an aortic valve replacement or she would risk having a potentially fatal heart attack. Darla was only in her early 50’s and the news was shocking to her friends and family.

Darla proceeded with the valve replacement and also has a pacemaker to help keep her heart in check. Darla’s story is just one of several stories being told in a poster gallery of survivors that is stopping by many Muskegon-area businesses. The posters, sponsored by Nichols, highlight five area women who are fighting heart disease and stroke. By sharing their personal health stories, they hope to reduce the incidence of these diseases.

In 2004, the American Heart Association (AHA) faced a challenge. Cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year, yet women were not paying attention. To dispel the myths and raise awareness of heart disease & stroke as the No. 1 and No.5 killers of women, the AHA created Go Red For Women.

Go Red For Women harnesses the energy, passion and power women have to band together and collectively wipe out heart disease. It challenges them to know their risk for heart disease and take action to reduce their personal risk. It also gives them the tools they need to lead a heart healthy life.

Funds raised by Go Red For Women activities also support research to discover scientific knowledge about heart health. This science then is incorporated into materials and tools that healthcare providers and decision-makers can use to help women.

Some issues, like Darla’s are congenital. Yet, congenital can also be affected by other health risks. What are some ways to lower the risk of heart disease or stroke? “We now know that 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes,” said Courtney Failer, the Go Red For Women director in West Michigan.

Phillip Gorelick, M.D. Neuroscience Medical Director at Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences, recommended in an October 2017 American Heart Association Presidential Advisory that heart disease and dementia can be avoided or delayed if people focus on behaviors and factors the AHA calls “Life’s Simple 7.” Life’s Simple 7 is made up of non-smoking, healthy weight, physical activity, healthy diet, and healthy levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

“Ideal cardiovascular health equates to ideal brain health,” said Gorelick.

The Go Red For Women Survivor’s Gallery will spend time at the Brookhaven Medical Care Facility, at Lakeshore Assisted Living, at the Muskegon Area District Library – Egelston Branch in the month of October and conclude with a visit to Fricano Place for the West Michigan Go Red For Women event on October 26.

The West Michigan Go Red For Women event is a night of networking, pampering by local vendors, a silent auction which will highlight several of the Purse-Inalities which are purses filled with items of a similar theme. There will be food, and a Go Red presentation highlighting personal stories. This year’s theme is #GoRedGetFit and guests are encouraged to dress in fitness apparel or cocktail attire!

This year’s event is sponsored nationally by Macy’s and CVS Health. Local sponsors include Mercy Health, Nichols, Heartland Health Care Center, Spectrum Health, Subaru of Muskegon, Agape Health Care Services and Northshore Women’s Lifestyle Magazine. The event will be at Fricano Place from 5:30- 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 26. For information and tickets, visit

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