At 47, Anita Smith ate well, exercised, kept up with physicals and watched her weight. A heart attack was the last thing on her mind. But that's what happened.
"I felt it in the middle of my chest, like I swallowed a pill and it didn't go down," said Smith, now 64.
Smith's husband immediately called 911, but during the time it took to get a diagnosis at the hospital, her heart suffered damage. Seventeen years ago, doctors weren't thinking "heart attack" when a middle-aged white woman entered the emergency room, Smith said.
"It has changed," Smith said. "The American Heart Association did testing not just on white males but started looking into white females and all ethnic groups and guess what? They found out that heart attack is the No. 1 killer for women also."
Smith is one of the many volunteers working to present this year's Red Hot and Healthy Luau and Fashion Show, a heart health awareness luncheon at Rockdale Medical Center. Set for Feb. 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the RMC East Tower Classroom, the event is open to the public. Tickets are $25.
In addition to a lunch which includes dishes like coconut shrimp and huli huli chicken, the afternoon also features "celebrity" waiters from the city of Conyers, the Rockdale County School Board, local businesses, nonprofits and RMC staff.
A fashion show, featuring clothing from Belk and "celebrity" models, will be a part of the entertainment. Elvis impersonator Ben Mance, who is RMC manager of security, will also make an appearance.
"It's a fun afternoon, that's what it's all about," Smith said.
Smith is now on medication for her heart damage and sees a cardiologist regularly. She also had a defibrillator implanted near her heart in 2006.
She said the most important fact people should know about heart attacks is that if a person feels one coming on, call emergency services immediately.
"A heart attack, plus time, equals muscle damage," Smith said.
Suffering a heart attack is not only hard on the victim, but also difficult for the family, she said.
"It's something that never leaves your mind. You're very aware of the fact," Smith said. "I can't say I feel fragile ... but it's a life changing experience."