Losing My Mom to Heart Disease Gave Me a New Life

Growing up in Texas, a sincere expression of love is through food. And, oh my, was I loved!  My adoring mother and grandmothers were known for their servant hearts and great southern cooking. So, my battle with weight came early.

Although I seemingly conquered by food issues by high school, my relationship with food continued to be unhealthy and focused on how I looked, even as I was raising my own family. Fad diets or binge eating, I was running scared from what I saw happen in my grandmothers. Mirror images of each other, they were overweight, suffering from diabetes and dementia, the younger caring for the older until she passed.

Then It Was My Mother’s Turn

I was alongside her as she fought health issues and continued her devotion to career and family.

But we lost her.

I remember sitting in my closet after the funeral wondering “What would mom want of me today?” I chuckled as I heard “Celebrate! Enjoy life for me, and love out loud.” Suddenly compelled, I reached for some dusty red heels off the top shelf. I thought these will wake me up, and went on with life, not knowing they would foreshadow my future.

The Newspaper Ad That Led Me to a Passionate Second Act

Still grieving over the unexpected death of my mom 6 months earlier, I was doing my best to stop mulling it over and over and over. What tortured me was that she had courageously battled a myriad of compounding health issues, including cardiac issues. But with two bouts with breast cancer, we lost her to… heart disease?

Debbie (left), with her mom, Billie Jo, and sister, Deemie.

Oddly enough, one chilly February morning, I felt my mom’s nudge. It’s time to get out of yourself, hun. Help someone, and you’ll help yourself. I opened a local paper for ways to volunteer as I had done at her side since I was a child, and there it was. A tiny ad tucked into the side of a local newspaper asked,

“Have you been touched by heart disease?”

As though in technicolor, I realized I was able to get not only my dad, but my dear friend, to the hospital in time to avoid heart attacks. And yet, I did not know how to save the most important woman in my life, my precious mom. She knew how to care for everyone but herself. To her, self-care seemed selfish, elusive and complicated.

Losing her had been a wake-up call to be healthy and live differently from what I saw destroying her. Determined to be here for my boys and their future families, I began to study nutrition and considered food as fuel and exercise as a must, not a luxury.

A Door Opens

The ad was for the national search launching the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Movement. Selecting a team of real women across the country to share stories of survival. I was joining the first team of Real Women. Woman to woman, we would share the Go Red message:

go red for women

Debbie with the original Go Red for Women team.

Heart disease is now our #1 killer and taking the lives of 1 in 3 of us.
It is often misdiagnosed and the symptoms for women are different from men.
It is no respecter of age.

The good news? Although 90% of us have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease, it’s 80% preventable with early detection and lifestyle changes.

Going Red for Women Changed my Life

Doors began to open faster than I could walk through them, with all paths leading to fitness. Through Go Red, I learned my biology does not have to be my destiny. And, speaking of destiny, as I continued sharing publicly the life-saving message of Go Red, I so loved being a wellness advocate that I changed my career path.

Debbie (front) with some of her Zumba students.

At the age of 58, I became a group fitness instructor with Zumba, primarily, for women in mid-life. I was encouraging them to move and dance their way to good health, mentally, physically and spiritually.

Join Me on February 7th and Go Red for Women

The American Heart Association wants you to join the thousands of women taking charge of their heart health. Help save our mothers, daughters and friends and Go Red for Women. Knowledge is power and small steps lead to big changes. Learn the simple steps that lead to big changes in heart health:

  • Get active
  • Control cholesterol
  • Eat nutrient-dense meals
  • Manage blood pressure
  • Lose weight
  • Reduce blood sugar
  • Stop smoking

Before every single Zumba class, I thank God for the chance to honor my mom, to know what she didn’t know about good health and to live my passion to encourage well-being. Please join me on February 7 as I again, don those red shoes and Go Red.



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