MANY people consider heart disease to be solely a male problem, a condition that tends to only be a worry for overweight men in their 60s and 70s.
But that misconception masks the frightening fact that heart problems kill 1,400 women in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire every year.
Heart disease is the region’s biggest killer of women, who are three times more likely to die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer.
This week, to mark the start of National Heart Month, The Star is raising awareness of a disease that strikes young and old, men and women.
The good news is the region has one of the best specialist heart centres in the UK – the cardiothoracic centre at the Northern General Hospital – which sees more than 13,000 people from across the region every year.
The centre, which carries out groundbreaking research and puts it into action to help save lives, is partly funded by the South Yorkshire Heart Appeal.
Christine Loukes, aged 69, from Eckington, was referred to the centre’s inherited cardiac conditions service six years ago, after several years of heart complaints.
She said: “I had been having problems since I was about 60.
“I kept falling short of breath and collapsing, but then within 24 hours I would be fine again.”
Doctors were baffled by her condition, but the problems worsened until Christine, wife to Jack, 73, with whom she has one son and two grandchildren, had a severe collapse and was rushed into intensive care.
Despite 24-hour monitoring, the doctors at Chesterfield Royal Hospital could not see what was behind Christine’s conditions.
Then, in 2005, she was referred to Prof Nigel Wheeldon at the Northern General, who diagnosed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic problem in which the walls of the heart are too thick.
He told Christine she had been lucky.
Her condition means her heart could have been jolted out of rhythm at any point, which could have killed her.
Now Christine has been fitted with a pacemaker and implanted defibrillator, which will save her life if her heart falls out of rhythm.
She said: “This service had been fantastic for us.
“The specialist nurses are always on the end of the phone if we have a problem or are worried about anything.
“Before we came here we didn’t know what was wrong at all – we were wandering in the darkness.
“Coming here was like discovering a wonderful oasis.”
The service employs three specialist nurses to support patients and screen their families – one of them funded by the South Yorkshire Heart Appeal.