Top killer: Heart disease in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - If you have a heart attack or heart disease, you're fortunate to be in Charlotte, where heart care and research are considered among the best in the nation. Still, heart disease remains the number one killer of women.

I talked to a Charlotte woman who knows heart disease first hand.

Amy Kochan was in a grocery store when she got the phone call from the doctor's office.  When she heard the news she said, "I literally collapsed onto the floor of Harris Teeter. And I'll never forget my little angels, this older couple, came over to me and said 'is everything okay' and I said 'no, it's not.'"

Doctors had discovered a large hole in Amy's heart. It was a congenital defect she was born with that had reached a point that would kill her if she didn't have surgery.

"I was someone that would never dream I would have a heart issue," Amy said. "I didn't fall into the category you would typically think of."

That was eight years ago. Today, following successful surgery, Amy is in great health. She's a wife and mother of two young boys. Her cardiologist says her heart is perfect.

In addition to her job as a financial manager, Amy works closely with the American Heart Association in Charlotte to spread the word about heart disease. She says, "Our family is just very dedicated to bringing awareness because you never really know when it's going to happen and who it can happen to."

Had Amy's diagnosis occurred years earlier, she might not have made it. But there have been tremendous advances in treatment since that time, many of them happening in Charlotte.

Dr. Robert Iwaoka is with the Novant Health Heart and Vascular Institute, which has a history of outstanding research.

"We've participated and have been top enrollers in a number of the pivotal trials that helped develop new drugs and procedures to save lives, and this is ongoing," Iwaoka says. "In general, there have been incredible advances over, during my career, that are astounding."

However, Amy and Iwaoka say it's still up to women and men to do a better job of taking care of their heart health.

According to Amy, "Statistics are that 80 percent of heart diseases are preventable by lifestyle changes. So stopping [smoking], limiting your alcohol intake, exercise, stress reducing, watching your blood pressure, watching your salt intake and really, knowing your risk factors."

"Get involved with a primary care physician or a gynecologist to get a screening done," Iwaoka says. "And adopt a healthy lifestyle. It's never too late to start. It's best to start young but it's never too late no matter what age you are."

February is Heart Month.

So how do you get started on better heart health?

Go to, where you will find more than enough information about heart disease and prevention to get you started.

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