More than 300 people, mostly women dressed in red, attended the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Luncheon and Health and Wellness Expo on May 4 at the Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa. They were there to learn more about heart disease and stroke prevention, and to support survivors.

This year’s keynote speaker was Connecticut-based David Katz, M.D., an internationally recognized authority on nutrition, weight management and the prevention of chronic disease. Katz asked the audience to raise their hand if they knew someone affected by heart disease, then another hand if they someone affected by stroke. Nearly everyone in the room raised their hands.

Katz told the audience that more than 80% of heart disease and stroke incidence could be prevented with their “feet, forks and fingers,” encouraging the crowd to make healthy lifestyle choices like exercising more, eating healthier and quitting smoking. He also spoke of the epidemic of childhood obesity and serious health consequences from it, including childhood diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and even stroke.

“Is there anything more unconscionable than a stroke in a child?” said Katz to a stunned audience when he presented statistics showing stroke on the rise in children and young adults.

May is American Stroke Month and the audience was reminded to learn the F.A.S.T. stroke symptoms by Lauren Scala, NBC 4 New York traffic reporter, who served as event emcee.

“If you see F — Face drooping, A — Arm weakness or S — Speech difficulty, it’s T — Time to call 9-1-1 if any of these symptoms exist.”

Heart health breakout sessions were presented by Greenwich Hospital and Stamford Health where women were provided with the tools, resources and inspiration to prevent women’s number one killer — heart disease.

Several local women were featured in two videos shown at the event. All are survivors or either heart disease or stroke. Selina Santos, of Wilton, was diagnosed with high blood pressure and aortic insufficiency at age 34. She visited doctors who diagnosed her constant headaches and shortness of breath to be stress-related, and told her to lighten her workload.

When she was finally diagnosed with aortic insufficiency, leakage of the aortic valve, her doctor gave her a choice of “lifestyle change or surgery,” she chose lifestyle change and is now a spin-class instructor.

“It’s been my mission to create a healthier lifestyle for others,” she said.

Her message to other women, even young women is to “not ignore the signs! What may seem like stress may be an underlying cause of a more serious issue. Put yourself first—it is not selfish, it’s necessary!”

Cindy King of Stamford, a heart attack survivor, was also featured in the video. Patty Macias, of New Rochelle, survived pulmonary embolism because her sister recognized heart attack symptoms early and got her to the emergency room quickly. Massalla Samuel of Elmsford, and Beverly Paige of Pomona, were two stroke survivors featured. They both survived and thrived — graduating top of their classes in college.

Martha Glantz of Mount Kisco had a heart attack at a Super Bowl party. She thought she had indigestion. But when it got worse and dizziness set in, she knew she needed to go to the hospital. “I always thought heart disease only happened to men. I want all women to know it can happen to you,” said Glantz.

Women can learn about preventing heart disease and stroke at goredforwomen.org. Learn more about making healthy changes at heart.org/gettinghealthy.

To make a donation to the Go Red For Women movement, visit westfairgoredluncheon.heart.org or contact Deena Kaye, director of Go Red For Women, at Deena.kaye@heart.org or by phone at 203-295-2941.

Go Red For Women is sponsored nationally by Macy’s and locally by Stamford Hospital, Signature Sponsor; and White Plains Hospital, Greenwich Hospital, Fuji, and Morgan Stanley; and media sponsors WHUD, Westchester Magazine, WestFair Communications, Buzz Creators, and Westchester Healthcare Newspaper.

Information about the American Heart Association is available at 1-800-AHA-USA1 or heart.org.