According to the American Heart Association, 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease every day, leading to an average of one person every 38 seconds.
February is American Heart Health Month. It is a month dedicated to educating and spreading awareness about heart health.
Old rescue dogs are like kids to Sheila Brookins. She takes them in and cares for them, getting them the treatment they need. Like her dogs, Brookins knows what it is like to live with a chronic health condition.
"I started having high blood pressure when I was a teenager," she said. "My doctor put me on high blood pressure medication."
Brookins spent more than 50 years on blood pressure medications that did always seem to work. Finally, she decided to visit Mayo Clinic Health System for an Electrocardiogram (EKG).
"She goes, 'There's something wrong,'" Brookins said. "And, she wasn't one-hundred percent sure, because I passed it, but it just wasn't quite right."
She was diagnosed with a form of heart disease. The testing found that one side of her heart was much thicker than the other.
"She had me go in immediately for a pacemaker and a defibrillator," Brookins said.
The tests also led to another shocking discovery about Brookins' health.
"After I had been in a stressful situation, I just thought it was heartburn. I found out I was having many heart attacks," she said. "I had five of them. That caused more scarring in my heart."
"Not everyone may have the symptoms you see in movies with the heart pains, crushing elephants on the chest," said Dr. Monique Freund, Cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.
American Heart Month hopes to turn attention to heart health, something cardiologists say is important not only in February but all year-round.
"Studies continue to show that awareness is still quite lacking," Freund said. "If you take a roving mic in the street and ask women, they'll probably say their biggest risk is breast cancer. While it is important, their risk of heart disease is probably the same if not higher."
With knowledge comes the power to get proper treatment.
"I listened to my body, and that's something everybody needs to do is listen to their body," Brookins said. "If things just aren't quite right, tell a doctor that you trust no matter how small it is, because it can go to something much bigger."
Brookins found out that heart disease did run in her family. Shortly after she was diagnosed, her cousin died suddenly from the same disease. She reached out to all of her children, telling them to be alert. One of her daughters has also been diagnosed.
Brookins credits an advancement in technology for reaching her diagnosis. She says that although it took more than five decades of not knowing what was wrong, medical practice was different in the past. She encourages all older men and women their hearts checked regularly.