BECAUSE HER father died of a heart attack at age 37, Claudette Ellis made it a point to adopt a healthful lifestyle. The Wilde Lake resident walked every morning, practiced yoga and was on a healthful diet. But that wasn't enough to prevent Ellis from having a heart attack in December 1998.
"For about three weeks, I noticed that as soon as I started my walk, I was having pain in my jaw and in my chest," said Ellis, 49. "I would stop, wait a few seconds and finish my workout."
Ellis made an appointment with her doctor, who scheduled a stress test and an echocardiogram. The results were inconclusive, and the doctor ordered more tests.
"While waiting for the tests, I had a heart attack," Ellis said. "I woke up one morning and I was having bad chest pains. I started to walk to the bathroom and I fell to the floor. The pain was overwhelming."
Ellis is one of an estimated 8 million American women living with heart disease. A survey conducted by the American Heart Association found that 62 percent of women believe that cancer is their greatest health threat. But cardiovascular diseases claim the lives of more women than the next seven causes of death combined.
"Despite the fact that cardiovascular disease has killed more women than men every year since 1984, this is still perceived as a man's disease," Dr. Susan Bennett said in a statement. Bennett is a cardiologist and American Heart Association spokeswoman.
After her heart attack, Ellis, a consumer safety officer with the Food and Drug Administration, began taking eight prescriptions a day to control her heart disease and suffered from depression and a sense of isolation.
"Getting adjusted to the whole illness was difficult. The depression was overwhelming," Ellis said. "I am a scientist by trade and I did a lot of research, but I had no one to talk to. It took a long time to trust my body to heal itself."
Ellis became involved with the development of the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. The group provides information and support to women with heart disease, and it promotes early diagnosis and proper treatment.
Since her heart attack, Ellis has spoken to various groups to encourage women to take an active approach to caring for their heart health. In February last year, she talked about her heart attack and recovery on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Last week, Ellis participated in a program on women and heart disease that aired on the Discovery Health channel.
February is American Heart Month. Ellis hopes women will take this opportunity to have their hearts checked by a physician and make a commitment to a heart-healthy lifestyle.
"Let me be your example," Ellis said. "Find out how your heart is. Find out your cholesterol level, blood pressure and watch your diet and stress.
"The average woman comes home and their work starts all over again. They rarely take time to relax or be still for a moment," Ellis said. "I've made relaxation a priority in my life."
On May 10, the American Heart Association will hold its Howard County Gala at the Kossiakoff Center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. Tickets cost $150 a person.
Information or tickets: 410-637-4519.
Information about women and cardiovascular disease: National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, www.women heart.org or American Heart Association, www.americanheart. org.
New home for archives
On Feb. 6, Columbia Archives held a grand reopening celebration at its new home on the ground floor of the American City Building on Wincopin Circle. Since 1983, the archives have served as a treasure trove of information on Columbia's history.
"It's really great to be in this much more visible location," said Barbara Kellner, manager of the archives. "What we hoped was that people would be walking by and would stop in. That has already happened."
The archives include assorted memorabilia, including maps, books, videotapes and documents related to the planning and design of Columbia. In 1996, Patty Rouse, widow of Columbia's founder, James W. Rouse, donated her husband's papers to the collection. The Rouse collection has been used by students studying urban planning as well as social issues.
"There's so much here that talks about the vision and pretty lofty philosophical goals for city planning in Rouse's speeches and some of the early memos. Forty years ago, they were so forward-thinking," Kellner said.
Josh Olsen of Laurel spent months perusing the archives while researching a biography of James Rouse, to be published in May.
"I would guess that this is one of the better collections of business-related material from a 20th-century figure. I feel that practically everything that crossed Jim Rouse's desk has landed in the archives," Olsen said.
"It's very important for people to learn about Columbia," said Patty Rouse, who attended the reopening. "Thanks to Barbara Kellner, the archives have become a very important place."
A fond farewell
After more than four years writing the west Columbia neighbors column for The Sun and a couple of months penning the east Columbia column, it is time for me to move on to other projects. Thank you for sharing your east and west side stories with me.
Beginning next month, Pamela Woolford will take over both the east and west Columbia columns. You can reach her by phone at 410-997-5040, or e-mail WoolfordPlace@aol.com.