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Seven heart attacks, two bloodless open heart surgeries and a hemorrhagic stroke are just a few things that Marilyn Freeman, mother of Marcus Freeman and co-owner of Signature Sweets Factory, had to go through since being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease at 42.

“For me, some days I’m too tired to get out of bed. But, usually I really try to push myself…I keep trying to be positive and never think about giving up,” Freeman said radiantly.

Between Freeman’s perfectly coifed appearance and light-hearted demeanor, a stranger would never suspect her of suffering from any ailments.

Marilyn Freeman

She bubbles with laughter throughout every sentence; the only thing remotely hinting at her problems are the punctuation of soft sighs after describing her cumbersome day running to her doctor’s appointment at Rush Hospital to see her surgeon, Dr. Valluvan Jeevanandam. She also sees Dr. Roderick Tung and Dr. Kim Allan Williams, Sr.

Before being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, Freeman lived a relatively normal life. She loved her job as a manager for AT&T, she was an active grandmother of two grandchildren, Paco Freeman and Havyn Freeman, and she enjoyed a vibrant social life.

While Freeman strived to maintain the latter two aspects of her life, cardiovascular disease did force her to step down from her job.

“My life is exhausting, I find myself extremely tired all of the time,” said Mrs. Freeman, acknowledging that she can’t do some of the things that she used to. “When I know that my body just can’t do anymore, I must take some down time, naps!” said Freeman, punctuating her sentence with laughter.

According to Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 289,758 women in 2013- that’s 1 in every 4 female deaths.

Furthermore, the CDC points out that every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack and 210,000 of which occur within people who have already suffered from a previous heart attack.

The National Wear Red Day campaign highlights the startling fact that cardiovascular disease kills one woman every 80 seconds in the United States. But, the campaign also notes that if women took the necessary steps to talk to their healthcare provider about blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI (Body Mass Index) that 80% of cardiac events may be prevented.

This is why National Wear Red Day and Heart Health Month were implemented in February, to remind everyone, particularly women, to be mindful of their cardiovascular health.

While some risk factors for cardiovascular disease cannot be avoided, such as:  age, gender, heredity, race and previous stroke or heart attack; other risk factors can be removed.

Some factors that can increase someone’s likelihood for cardiovascular disease is high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol, lack of  regular activity, obesity or being overweight and diabetes.

Another important function of National Go Red Day, besides bringing awareness to the prevalent rate of cardiovascular disease in women, is to raise funds for research and to support educational programs to increase women’s awareness.

Despite her health woes, Freeman still finds the energy to help her son, Marcus Freeman, run their bakery, Signature Sweets Factory. She also maintains a position as a spokesperson for WomenHeart since 2007.

Even though Freeman has the sweetest position at the bakery—minding the dessert counter—she says she still has to remain mindful to not eat too many sweets. The bakery features a multitude of decadent desserts such as strawberry cheesecake cookies, Reese’s peanut buttercup cupcakes and Vanilla Bean Cake in a Jar (which you can conveniently pick up at Mariano’s in the South and West Loop, Oak Lawn and Bronzeville) and even wedding cakes. When Freeman is not at the bakery, she’s working tirelessly to renew the spirits of other people currently facing the same diagnosis.

“I also volunteer to speak to and encourage heart patients and their families from out of town, at the University of Chicago, for heart transplant and open heart surgery.”

Freeman has spoken to a variety of different people hailing from different locations all over the world.

“I’ve met patients from Ohio, Boston, Virginia, Maryland, California, Enitrea, Africa and more.”

Despite Freeman’s tireless nature and endless optimism, she does face some days that are harder to handle than others because of cardiovascular disease.

“Some days are really rough, especially knowing that I have more surgeries ahead” said Freeman.

“However, my faith, my family (which includes her mother Wanda Bowling, husband of 35 years Hernando Freeman, her daughter A’yesha Freeman, her son and grandchildren), and friends are very supportive to me. Just thinking about it, it is overwhelming at times,” continued Freeman.

“But, I remind myself to keep fighting and never, ever give up.”

 

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