NORTH ATTLEBORO - A diagnosis of heart disease or stroke can be devastating, as three North Attleboro women found out, but it can also be an introduction to a new community ready to support you through coming twists and turns.
Lisa Deck, Caitlan Kane and Jamie McHoul-O'Hanlon found a "universal sisterhood" in one another after meeting at local American Heart Association events. There, they realized they shared something special.
"While all of our stories are different, we have a shared understanding of the challenges and trials that come with living with heart disease and stroke," Deck said. "As well, as the feeling you get from overcoming those trials."
Moved by a passion to give back to the community that helped them, the three women started Sisters@Heart, a new non-profit they hope will provide support, raise awareness and fund research for other families living with heart disease.
"We really wanted to come together and benefit the community that supported us by giving back," Deck said.
Each woman has a different "survival story" that brought them to form Sisters@Heart.
Deck, 41 and a mother of two, was diagnosed with heart disease at 21, when she suffered a stroke one week before her college graduation. Last year, her symptoms returned and Deck underwent double brain bypass surgeries after being diagnosed with Moyamoya disease.
"This community was vital in helping me get through that time," she said. "I liked North Attleboro before, but now it's really a vital part of my life."
Kane is a local mother of three and a survivor of peripartum cardiomyopahthy, a rare form of heart disease that occurs right before or after giving birth. Her diagnosis was missed by delivery doctors, who diagnosed her instead with pneumonia, but her general practitioner later recognized that she was in heart failure and rushed her to treatment.
Since then, Kane has worked to raise awareness and support for earlier diagnoses of the disease.
And, O'Hanlon, a North Attleboro native and mother of five, was shocked when her fourth daughter Scarlett was born with a life-threatening heart defect that required immediate surgery. Now 5 years old and "thriving," Scarlett still needs open-heart surgery to repair and replace valves in her heart, O'Hanlon said.
The news pushed the family to advocate for pediatric heart research.
"After getting the original diagnosis I was devastated," the 36-year-old said. "So for me, Sisters@Heart was a way to turn something absolutely negative into a positive. It's the thing that keeps me putting one foot in front of another, knowing, if we continue to fundraise, her future will be brighter, too."
The group will host its first event, a "Heart-Oberfest," Oct. 21, O'Hanlon said. A crowd of about 200 would raise around $15,000 total, to be split between their three individual causes.
And, as the organization continues to grow, the three women hope it will become a shared space for others in the community with a connection to heart disease or stroke.
"We hope that this will become an inclusive group," Deck said. "Everyone is affected by heart disease and stroke in some way, even if not personally. We're all sisters, mothers, friends or relatives of somebody who is affected.
"We're still in the beginning stages of things, but this first event is really to increase awareness and let people know that we exist and we'll be fundraising in the months to come."
For more information, visit the group's Facebook page: SistersAtHeart.
KAYLA CANNE can be reached at 508-236-0336, at email@example.com and on Twitter @SCNAttleboro.