For Good: Local American Heart Association gets men to go red

Terry Igo, CEO of the Tampa Bay Trust Co., didn’t hesitate when friend and banking colleague Katie Pemble asked him for some help with a volunteer project.

Would he be willing to recruit men for an American Heart Association awareness campaign? Not to promote a message of preventing heart attacks among males, but specifically, to support women in the fight against heart disease.

Pemble, president of the St. Petersburg-based C1 Bank, has her own reasons for being an ardent supporter and AHA volunteer. At age 34, she suffered congestive heart failure, brought about by the onset of pregnancy. Though fully recovered now and a mom of a 15-year-old daughter, Pemble continues to tirelessly put the spotlight on educating others about the disease that nearly killed her.

For that reason alone, Igo was more than willing to join his friend and come on board. And he had other motivating factors as well. Not only was Pemble’s proposal in line with his company’s mission of getting involved in nonprofits that benefit the community, it also resonated in his personal life.
“I live in a house with three women,” he says of his wife, Cristin, and daughters, Maeve, 8, and Rose, 3. “I need them to be around to take care of old Dad one day.”

So far, Igo is learning that his male counterparts share his enthusiasm for the area’s inaugural Men Go Red, a spinoff of the successful Go Red for Women campaign that launched nationally more than a decade ago. He’s already near his goal of signing on 40 local men for an annual donation of $2,000 each and a commitment to push awareness of the number one killer of women –- more deadly than all forms of cancer combined.

The recently launched men’s component of the Go Red movement –- which has doubled the awareness of heart disease in women since its inception in 2003 -- is a new development that is gaining traction in cities all over the country.
Getting men involved in an initiative centered on women requires some different strategies. The Birchwood in St. Petersburg hosted a cocktail reception earlier this month to bring participants on board and acquaint them with the campaign.

Having Fun For A Cause

Coming up, Men Go Red members will take part in several events donated by sponsors throughout the year. Among them: The Oct. 26 Bucs-Vikings game in a corporate suite, “behind-the-scenes” events with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Lightning and the Rowdies, and a craft-beer tasting at 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg, with a special brew created just for the group and personalized cans for the members.

The purpose behind the occasional social gatherings is to inspire camaraderie and give members a common ground to share ideas on the group’s mission. After that, it’s up to the individuals to educate and spread the word about the signs and prevention of heart disease in women in their own circles.

“A movement like this starts with one person and spreads,” Igo says. “You see the success they’ve had with breast-cancer awareness. There’s no reason we can’t accomplish the same thing in this area.”

Molly Palmer, Go Red for Women director of the American Heart Association Tampa Bay, says it only makes sense to bring men into the fold.

“It’s important because every single man has had a woman in his life at one point – a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a wife or a daughter,” she says. “And because the symptoms of this disease can be different in women, it’s good that everyone knows those signs and is prepared to deal with it quickly. You can save a life.”

She knows this firsthand. Until Palmer began her career with the AHA, she didn’t know heart disease causes one in three women’s deaths a year, killing approximately one woman every minute. Her own mother almost became one of those casualties in February, when she suffered cardiac arrest and a stroke. Because Palmer had given her family members instructions on how to handle such an emergency, her father called 911 and CPR was performed on her mother — and saved her life.

“It’s one of those things you don’t think can happen to you, but it can,” she says. “The more awareness we can generate and the more knowledge we can share, the more lives we can save.”

Preventing Heart Disease

Pemble, who has restored her heart through a healthy diet and running program, shares her own testimony at every opportunity she gets. While she’s got her health back 100 percent, her experience in 1999 puts her among the 43 million American women affected by heart disease. She is using her influence to convince the medical establishment to invest in more research dedicated to women and to raise more funds for awareness campaigns. 

“Back when I went through this, I couldn’t find any statistics regarding women. I was appalled by that. There were zero studies done in this area. Zero!” she says. “So when they started the Go Red for Women movement, I got on board right away.”

Her main message: About 75 percent of heart conditions are preventable. Your chances of survival are based on how healthy you are. Improve your diet, exercise program and lifestyle, and you improve your chances of a longer life.

Pemble and other AHA volunteers have a goal of reducing the high rate of women’s deaths 20 percent by the year 2020. Tapping men like her friend Igo to lead a local Men Go Red campaign will only enhance their efforts.

And Igo is ready for the challenge.

“I’m a business guy. I see an opportunity here to change things and make a difference,” he says. “A little knowledge goes a long way. We don’t want heart disease to be a silent killer anymore among women. We need to get loud on how to prevent it and react to it.”

To learn how to get involved in the men’s initiative, contact Molly Palmer at Go Red for Women or Terry Igo at The Tampa Bay Trust Company.

Michelle Bearden is a multimedia journalist based in Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Michelle Bearden.

Michelle Bearden is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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