Olathe woman is a national spokeswoman for heart health

Two years ago, Olathe resident Liz Tatham suddenly went from running 15 miles a week to crawling up stairs.

She got her heart repaired in time and now the 43-year-old survivor tells her story locally and nationwide as a volunteer for the American Heart Association.

The group announced this month that she was selected as one of six national spokeswomen for its Go Red for Women movement.

Tatham’s job is to spread awareness that heart disease kills more than 420,000 women a year in the United States, making it the top killer of women.

And many of those deaths can be prevented if women would pay attention to their health and lifestyles, she said.

Tatham, a mother of four children who range from 12 to 20 years old, was active and in good shape, she thought, until two years ago.

“When I was in bed then I felt like I had a stack of books on my chest,” she said. “If my husband or any of my four kids felt like this I would see to it they went to the doctor.”

So she finally went to a cardiologist as a precaution. She had been born with a defective heart valve that was backing up blood to her heart and enlarging it. Open-heart surgery corrected the problem, she said, but it could return in the future.

Tatham and the other spokeswomen are spreading the word that heart disease can strike younger women. All women need to take time from caring for others to care for themselves, she said.

In September, Tatham attended the New York premiere of a short informational film starring actress Emma Banks. The film, “Just a Little Heart Attack,” played in Kansas City last week.

This weekend Tatham goes to Orlando, Fla., to tell her story and carry her message, she said.

“Women are afraid to say things about heart disease because we work so hard to be the caretakers, to be strong…,” Tatham said. “So many times I think we feel that if we said something about it, it would show that we were weak.”

Given that one in three women has some form of cardiovascular disease, the heart association reports, that attitude can easily be fatal.