Linz, an ambassador for the American Heart Association, had her first heart attack at age 40, followed by two strokes during the next three years. The reigning Mrs. East Coast International made heart disease her platform, working to educate women about heart health and how they could prevent cardiovascular disease.
“My work with the AHA actually saved my life,” Linz said. “Education is key.”
Mrs. International parent company International Pageants Inc. is working with the AHA to recruit women across the nation to participate in the Health eHeart study by the University of California, San Francisco.
The study, considered a large-scale, digital version of the pivotal 65-year old Framingham Heart Study, aims to collect data from 1 million patients from around the world to conduct long-term, ongoing research on how to best prevent and manage cardiovascular disease.
Health eHeart will use data collected by smartphones and other personal technologies, in addition to other electronically available medical data and patient-provided information about heart health and lifestyle habits.
“The Health eHeart study offers our contestants another important way to make a difference and, most importantly, to help save lives,” said Mary Richardson, executive director of International Pageants, Inc.
International Pageants has been a national partner of the Go Red for Women campaign since 2008, raising funds and providing volunteer support through local AHA chapter participation by its hundreds of contestants annually. The partnership is working to recruit 100,000 U.S. women to the study by June.
Linz, who lives in Rockford, Maryland, began volunteering with AHA in 2000, after losing her father to complications following a heart attack. Linz’s mother died six years later at age 56, also from heart disease. She had battled heart disease for two decades, requiring a double valve replacement and surviving a stroke in her 30s.
Watching her parents struggle with their health, Linz became an advocate for heart issues, working to raise awareness about lifestyle choices that help lower risk and how to recognize symptoms that something is wrong before it’s too late.
Her father had been a long-time smoker and her mother was from Georgia where fried food and butter were regular menu items. Linz didn’t smoke and maintained a healthy diet and thought that would be enough to avoid developing the disease.
Eighty percent of heart disease and stroke can be prevented with healthy lifestyle choice, but Linz fell in the other 20 percent where family history plays a significant role.
In 2010, Linz was feeling short of breath and was having a hard time lifting her 6-pound son Carter, who had been born the previous year, three months premature and with health complications. Scared, she called her husband at work and he told her to call 9-1-1.
It turned out to be a life-saving call. But Linz felt the medical providers she encountered were downplaying her symptoms, suggesting she was simply an anxious mother.
“They made me feel like I was an idiot,” she said.
Testing at the hospital showed Linz was having a heart attack and soon she was rushed to the catheterization lab to have a stent placed.
“Next thing I know, they came rushing into my room and said, “Relax, you’re having a heart attack,” gave me a shot of medicine and took me to the cath lab,” she said.
It turned out Linz’s left anterior descending artery – sometimes called “the widow maker” – was more than 70 percent blocked. She was put on several medications to help prevent future complications.
A year later, Linz had a small stroke called a transient ischemic attack, followed by a major ischemic stroke in 2013 that was treated with a blood clot buster called tissue plasminogen activator, known as tPA.
Linz experienced a temporary dysphasia, or difficulty speaking following her second stroke, and continues to have a slight limp when she walks. Her eyesight has also been affected and she now wears glasses.
“A lot of people don’t’ realize that when you have heart disease, it can affect all your organs,” Linz said.
Linz is a passionate supporter of AHA’s Go Red For Women initiative, working to help women better understand their risks and encouraging them to advocate for themselves. That includes understanding their key health measurements, including blood pressure and cholesterol.
“People can be dismissive when you say you have a family history of heart disease, but I always tell people, ‘You could be the start of your family history,’” she said. “Education is key and you have to advocate for yourself.”