Patricia Snead was a walking time bomb.
“It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest and I was gasping for air," she said.
Geraldine McPherson was, too.
"By the time I got to the emergency room, they told me if I hadn't come when I did, I would have died by drowning in my own fluids. I had two valves that were leaking. It leaked fluid in my lungs,” she recalled.
Both women are examples of a startling fact – African-American women are at higher risk of developing heart disease.
"The problem is by the time they get coronary artery disease, the horse is out of the barn. It's better to prevent than to wait until an event occurs. Trying to get people to understand that is where we run into problems," says cardiologist Keith Newby, MD.
Snead has had three heart attacks because she had two strikes against her.
"My mother had heart disease. My father had diabetes. I was the baby of the family and I came down with both of them,” she said.
McPherson’s heart valve problem is less common, but ignoring her symptom was common.
"Before, I would walk 10 minutes and I would get out of breath like I was running," noted McPherson.
Today, both women are living life differently.
For Patricia, that means cutting down on fried food.
“Well, I started to steam, bake and broil and things of that nature and more vegetables than meat.
Geraldine kicked the habit.
"I stopped smoking."
Treating diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol also reduces heart disease.
"I always try to emphasize the need to stay physically active, weight control, get regular checkups and listen to the physician. take charge of your own health," Dr. Newby advises.