By Dan Truttschel
Milwaukee American Heart Association Marketing Communications Director
It was more than a decade ago when Pastor Veloris Mann knew something wasn’t right with her health.
But even though she made monthly trips to the emergency room when the symptoms refused to lessen, it wasn’t until she was on the doorstep of a catastrophic event that the cause was finally revealed.
Fast forward to today and Mann, the Chaplaincy Program Coordinator for the Milwaukee Salvation Army, is not only alive and well, but flourishing and spreading her message to those who need to hear it.
Mann is this year’s featured survivor at the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Luncheon, set for May 12, at The Pfister Hotel, in Milwaukee.
When she was finally diagnosed, Mann said her doctor told her she had a 90% blockage on one side of her heart and a 50% blockage on the other – and was a week, maybe less, from what could have been a massive heart attack that likely would have ended her life.
It was a long and winding road to get Mann to the triple-bypass surgery that ultimately saved her life.
There are many messages about her story that Mann intends to share with the crowd in attendance on May 12 – the first among them is to continue advocating for your own health until somebody listens.
“I wouldn’t be here (if I didn’t do that),” she said. “You know your body. You find somebody that’s going to listen to you. You do not give up at all because you have good doctors and you have bad doctors, you know, those that just want to generalize you and put you in a category.
“Then you have the ones who really take the time out to really try to say, you know, ‘Hey every person is not a textbook. Some people are rare, and at 39 years old, she may be having a heart attack.”
Cardiovascular disease continues to be the No. 1 killer among women, according to the American Heart Association, and claims more women’s lives than all cancers combined.
Heart disease also is the No. 1 killer of new mothers.
Other key numbers paint an even scarier picture:
• Nearly 60% of stroke deaths are in women, and each year, 55,000 more females than males suffer a stroke.
• The majority of deaths from high blood pressure are in women, at nearly 52%.
• Women in their 30s and 40s are more than twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease than cancer.
And when it comes to Black and Hispanic women, the effects are even worse.
Research shows heart attacks are on the rise in younger women – but that demographic is less likely to be aware of their greatest threat, including knowing the warning signs for heart attacks and strokes.
It goes without saying that taking care of one’s heart needs to be the top priority, Mann said.
“Do you trust your heart is doing what it needs to do?” she said. “You get two lungs, you can lose one. You get two kidneys, you can lose one. But you only get one heart. So that’s what’s on your mind, like, ‘What if this thing checks out? I’m gone.’ If my kidney shuts down, I have time to recover from that and live off one kidney. But you only get one heart.”
Continuing the fight
While Mann now is in a good place with her heart health, she recently was presented with another challenge that she needs to overcome.
During a routine visit to her doctor, it was determined that Mann now has a diabetes diagnosis on her plate – but like with her heart, she knows this next challenge is just another obstacle on the road of life.
“I know how to do it,” she said. “I know what to eat, so I can do it and get off (the medications). And today was the first day I took the medication. So it’s like, ‘You can do it again.’ (My heart situation taught) me the lessons from it.”
Mann said the new diagnosis was a tough pill to swallow at the time – because it took her back to that moment more than a decade ago.
And that was a place she didn’t think she’d have to travel back to.
“Another diagnosis was a trigger for me,” she said. “I was working real hard to get off more of my heart medication. My doctor was like, ‘You know, your blood pressure’s been great. Keep that up for one more year, and we’ll be able to bring you off some of the medication.’
“So I was ready to celebrate getting off some of the medication.”
While she now has this new battle on her hands – and continuing to monitor her previous one as well – Mann is filled with confidence that her journey will continue on a positive track.
Asked about what other message she plans to share with the room at The Pfister on May 12, Mann reflected on all the challenges her fellow women face.
As fast as the world turns, and as many things women juggle every single day, she said every woman owes it to themselves to take a break.
And at the same time, you have to look out for yourself.
“I love (speaking about my journey),” Mann said. “Because I don’t want (others) to get blindsided.”
This year’s Go Red for Women Chair is Dr. Patty Golden, DO, clinical president of Ascension Wisconsin, who also will speak at the luncheon, which begins at 10 a.m.
New this year is a Women’s Health Expo, which runs until 11:30 a.m., followed by lunch and the program, including Mann’s keynote speech. The Expo will include a number of interactive exhibits for visitors, along with a live auction.
This year’s Women of Impact winner also will be announced during the event. This year’s nominees are Kim Hastings, president, CJ and Associates, Inc.; Dr. Janice Litza, MD, FAAFP, regional chief medical officer, Ascension All Saints Hospital; Adrienne Pedersen, communications professional; and Christy Stone, director of strategic partnerships and customer service, Milwaukee Public Schools.
The campaign concludes on April 6, and the woman whose team has the highest number of impact points – awarded through a combination of fundraising and mission impact activities – will be named the Milwaukee 2023 Woman of Impact Winner.