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Go Red for Women Day: Portage woman spreads awareness after diagnosis

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KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Every 80 seconds a woman dies from heart disease.

To bring awareness to the staggering statistic, people across the country will be wearing red Friday for Go Red for Women Day.

Doctors say the big problem is too many women don't pay attention to the symptoms.

Melissa Johnson has congenital heart disease. It's something she will live with for the rest of her life, but since she discovered it only three years ago, she's been working to make sure others are aware of their risks.

Three years ago she was at work at Access Point in Portage when she passed out. From there came a major diagnosis.

"I was born with a congenital heart defect that was not discovered until I was 37 years old,” said Johnson.

She's since been in and out of the office as she works to stay healthy.

"Over the last three years I've had two open heart surgeries to replace a portion of my heart,” said Johnson.

Now she's making heart heath for everyone her mission.

"It kind of felt like a calling for me to get involved with the American Heart Association and work really hard for the educational piece,” said Johnson.

Between heart walks with the American Heart Association and lobbying for more education and resources in Washington, Johnson has tirelessly worked to make sure women know their numbers, risks and symptoms.

Borgess cardiologist Dr. Ken Tobin says many times those symptoms go unnoticed or ignored.

"Most of the patients that have some form of significant congenital disease probably have symptoms. Whether it be fluttering in their chest, whether it be fatigue, whether it be short of breath walking up stairs, things that they probably brush aside,” said Dr. Ken Tobin, a cardiologist at the Borgess Heart Center.

For Johnson, who calls herself a heart patient for life, the goal is saving others.

"The particular prosthetic piece that I have has a life span between 10 and 15 years, so I know that there is the future of heart surgeries going forward. And that's why research and education are so important. So people like me who will be a heart patient forever can continue to look forward to opportunities of continued life,” said Johnson.

February 8 is the American Heart Association of West Michigan’s annual Go Red for Women luncheon in Kalamazoo.

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For more information or to get tickets to the event, you can visit their website here.

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