February 1 marks the start of American Heart Month and the American Heart Association is encouraging everyone to support the "Go Red for Women" campaign, which is all about fighting heart disease in women.
Cardiovascular disease is known to be the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year.
NBC 7's own Brooke Landau has beaten the odds twice, and shared her story to bring awareness to the topic.
“I’ve had congenital heart disease, I’ve had problems with my heart my whole life,” Landau said.
At 16 months old, Landau had open heart surgery. She never thought later in her life she'd have to go through an extensive heart surgery again, but six months ago she found out that she would need another major heart surgery.
“I was in congestive heart failure and I didn't know it, that's so scary,” she said. “I was still working full time, on television, running around after my 3 and 5-year-olds. Running around like a normal, able person.”
There were complications with the planning of her second surgery -- doctors had to figure out how they would be able to get a valve into her heart without causing damage.
“In order to do Brooke's procedure her heart was not the usual anatomy to allow us to put a valve in,” said Dr. Howaida El-Said, Rady Children’s Hospital Cardiologist and Director of Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. “Her situation is a little unique because the right coronary artery is right under the sternum, so it was going to be difficult to open the sternum because you can cut into the right coronary.”
After printing a 3-D model of her heart and practicing on it over and over, the team of cardiologists and staff at Rady Children's and UC San Diego Health pulled it off.
“My heart was actually resting against my breast bone, so if they sawed into my chest they could've sawed into my heart.” Landau said. “I had a cathartic procedure and they went through my leg.”
“With advancement of technology we’ve been able to do these procedures with a very small incision in the groin and go up to the heart and we can now place valves in the heart,” said Dr. El-Said. “This is what we want to see, you know. I have babies that are going to be Brooke and she gives me that hope.”
Brooke isn't alone. The American Heart Association states that heart disease claims the lives of one in three American women, killing more than 400,000 each year.
“American Heart Association realizes there’s a tremendous under recognition of heart diseases in women,” said Dr. Laith Alshawabkeh, UC San Diego Health cardiologist and Director of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program. “Women themselves may not report symptoms that we as health care providers report as typical.”
Dr. Laith said there are two million adults living with congenital heart disease.
“Brooke is unique because she was able to not only overcome congenital heart disease, but to go back and advocate for others who are not able to advocate for themselves,” Dr. Laith said.
Landau is encouraging everyone to make sure their heart is healthy.
“I can’t stress the importance for people and women to get their heart checked even if you think nothing is wrong,” she said. “I’m so lucky to be here in San Diego and have done this procedure here.”
The American Heart Association is pushing to centralize the care for congenital heart disease, and UC San Diego Health has an entire care unit dedicated to it.