Living with a positive purpose: For me, I must be intentional about bringing positivity into my life because for so long I had such negative feelings. Your mind can play tricks on you and make you think negative things about yourself, but I’ve learned tricks to speak more positively about myself and my life. I’ve found that speaking positive words of affirmation, reading books, reducing my time on social media, and being intentional about the shows I watch on TV help to not allow so much negativity in my world and help to renew my mind daily.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rolanda Perkins a 15-year Heart Attack Survivor!!! She’s also a Health Activist & Public Speaker. In 2009 Rolanda was named as one of the American Heart Association’s National Spokespersons for the GO RED for Women Campaign. She also serves as a WomanHeart Champion Facilitator through the WomenHeart organization. In these roles, she helps to educate the community, (Women in particular), about their risks for developing Heart Disease. Rolanda works as a Training officer for the Department of Children’s Services in the Office of Training & Professional Development.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Fifteen years ago, I suffered a heart attack after turning 39 years old. I was under a lot of stress at work, I wasn’t getting enough rest, and I didn’t always make the best food choices. However, I would always find the time to exercise, which is what helped keep me sane in my insane work environment. Physical activity has always helped me relieve stress.
My work environment at the time was quite toxic, and I didn’t always know how to deal with the negativity, which took a toll on my health. Before I knew it, early one morning I had a friend drive me to the hospital because of a pain that I had been experiencing in my chest for a week and chose to ignore. At the time that I finally decided to go to the doctor, the pain had gotten worse. It never occurred to me that I could be having a heart attack. I didn’t even know what symptoms to watch for. This was not on my radar because no one in my family ever had issues with their heart, so why would I think that I would?
After arriving at the ER, I was triaged, then taken straight to a room where they began running tests. I can remember them connecting me to many different devices that I would later discover were monitoring my heart. Finally, someone walked up to me and said, “Ms. Perkins, our tests are showing us that you’re having a heart attack.”
Imagine my shock and surprise! Everything was going so fast that it was hard to remember all of the events from that day. I remember the doctors checking to see if I had any blocked arteries, which I ultimately did not. That was such a blessing to hear. I can remember thinking that, “I was still here for a reason.” I wasn’t quite sure what that reason was,but I was very grateful to still have a reason to be here.
I stayed in the hospital for an entire week and had a battery of tests performed. During that time, the pain would come and go, and sometimes was unbearable. After extensive tests, I was finally cleared to go home. The attending physician told me that I would have to stay on what seemed to be hundreds of pills,for the rest of my life. I told him that I would NOT! After finding a different cardiologist and asking her that same question, she told me that with a lifestyle change and proper diet, I would not have to maintain the number of pills that I was discharged with. That was EXCELLENT news to me!
One of the medications that I was prescribed is a statin medication for high cholesterol. I’ve been on a statin since my heart attack, but I did experience the need to change statins, as what I was originally prescribed did not get me to reach my cholesterol goals. Before this experience, I didn’t know that there were multiple statins and each person responds to a statin differently, but I learned that by working with my doctor, we could find the one that was best for me.
After my heart event, I began throwing myself into volunteer and speaking opportunities and doing whatever I could to help educate other women about their heart health. I’ve coordinated and led training courses at work, and hosted events both at work and within the community. I introduced heart health education within my church to help raise awareness of the importance of adapting a healthy lifestyle, understanding risks for heart disease, and maintaining ongoing conversations with your healthcare provider. I also hosted a local radio show for several years and was able to use that platform to spread the word about our community heart health observances.
I’ve been a vocal advocate for heart health at the national level as well, joining the American Heart Association as a spokesperson for the Go Red for Women campaign over a decade ago, and a few years later, joining WomenHeart, the first and only national organization solely devoted to supporting women living with heart disease. Through WomenHeart, I learned how to start and conduct a support group within my community for women living with or at risk of developing heart disease.
Most recently, I’ve begun working with Take Cholesterol to Heart, a national education campaign that teaches the audience about risk factors for high cholesterol and how to treat it, along with helpful tools to stick with a cholesterol management plan.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Since becoming an advocate for women’s heart health, one of the most interesting stories is that I was able to serve as a panelist on a national health call with US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. That same year I would meet Dr. Benjamin at WomenHeart’s Wenger Awards dinner in Washington, D.C., attended by leaders in government, business, advocacy, media, and medicine, and honoring individuals and organizations making extraordinary contributions to the advancement of women’s heart health. In 2016, I had the honor of serving as one of the Wenger Award presenters and I was able to present the founder of Black Girls Run, Ashley Roca, with the Wenger Award that year.
That year, I was reminded that in pursuing my passion to speak to women and raise awareness of the importance of living heart-healthy lifestyles, doors continue to open and take me places that I’ve never dreamed of. I continue to have so many wonderful opportunities to help other women that I would have never experienced, had it not been for my heart attack. I would have never dreamed that a significant part of my purpose in this world would be to help educate people (women in particular) about their heart health.
I also learned that it’s important to not just speak to other women, but to speak with other women as well. It’s so beneficial to have someone to talk to, (who perhaps experienced your same trauma),in order for you to be prepared for some of the new and unexpected life situations that will occur with high cholesterol or after a heart attack. WomenHeart offers a service called Sister Match which is a peer-to-peer support opportunity for women living with heart disease. The program matches women with others who have the same or similar diagnosis to provide support to that woman.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I first had a heart event has to do with taking my medication. I was not used to taking medication prior to the heart attack and the only medicines that I would take would be something for an occasional headache. During this time, when everything was still so new to me, I would drink LOTS of water with my medications, even at night. I would wake up in the middle of the night having to run to the restroom and I was so frustrated because my sleep was consistently interrupted. I didn’t want this to be a constant problem for the rest of my life, so I contacted my doctor to discuss my concern. I soon discovered that I was just drinking too much water prior to going to bed and that I needed to decrease the amount of water I drank, right before bed. It’s pretty funny now, but not so much at the time because I was freaking out and thinking that it was the medication! Again, everything was so new to me at that time, so anything out of my ordinary was life changing.
The lesson that I learned is the importance of having an open relationship with and speaking to my doctor to express any concerns. I learned that I could not expect that everything was going to remain the same in my life after my heart event, and that I had to work with my doctor to find the best treatment plan for me and make lifestyle adjustments along the way.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I didn’t realize how extremely important it is to have someone in your corner who can serve as a mentor or a coach. What I’ve learned over these last 15 years is that many people can serve in that capacity, and over the years, many different people have, in my life. I’ve also learned that some of those people we may never meet. I’ve felt supported through reading books and other forms of literature, listening to audio, viewing documentaries, etc. However, there’s nothing like having that up close and personal person who serves in that role.
Over the past four years, my mentor has been my friend and personal trainer, Mark Hamlett. Since working with Mark, my self-esteem has improved tremendously. He not only trains my body physically, which is very important to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels, but he has also helped to retrain my mind. He is a constant support and gives me the encouragement I need, especially because following the heart event I would sometimes slip in and out of feelings of depression. One day I was up and the other I was down. Mark gave me assignments to help build my self-confidence, such as journaling my thoughts and feelings, and also encourages me to write down the positive things that I’ve accomplished in my life, and the positive things about myself and who I am. Mark has helped me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. In increasing my self-esteem, I’m able to live with a calmer mind and ultimately feel less stressed, which is always a good thing for my heart.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I believe the work I do to educate people about their heart health has already made a positive and bigger impact in the world. I say this because I hear stories from people who tell me what they’ve experienced and the changes they’ve made as a result of the information I’ve shared. I also encourage them to always pay the information forward. I’m currently excited to begin sharing additional resources such as TakeCholesteroltoHeart.com, a great website to learn more about high cholesterol as a major risk factor for heart disease. The site also provides important factors in picking and sticking with an appropriate statin treatment to promote good cholesterol health.
One example of how education can spread quickly is my work with our annual Wear Red Sunday church events. I have shared information with many people who have either experienced heart events themselves or have needed to support a close family member or friend through a heart health challenge, and they’ve been grateful for the tools I provided them to help navigate their experience. Also, after conducting my online heart health educational sessions at work, I would often receive emails from people (that I seldom knew), who would thank me for the sessions that were being provided.
So YES… I can literally see/hear the impact that is being made in the world as a result of the small part that I play in the lives of others through the education that I provide.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Reduce stress: I didn’t realize it at the time, but stress had taken such a toll on my health that it was a big factor leading up to the heart attack. I would advise women today that if they are under a lot of stress, to first identify the source of that stress and find ways to remove the culprit or de-stress that work for them. For me, meditation and having quiet time is so vitally important. What I do know and understand is that it’s not worth my health failing because I’m walking around stressed out over things that I can choose to let go of! Life is SO precious and short, and we only get one!
- Find time to incorporate some form of exercise: I read a quote that said, “Exercise is the most underutilized antidepressant”. This is so true. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always done some form of physical activity, and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best ways for me to reduce stress, “Hands down!” Regular exercise can also be great for your heart health.
- Living with a positive purpose: For me, I must be intentional about bringing positivity into my life because for so long I had such negative feelings. Your mind can play tricks on you and make you think negative things about yourself, but I’ve learned tricks to speak more positively about myself and my life. I’ve found that speaking positive words of affirmation, reading books, reducing my time on social media, and being intentional about the shows I watch on TV help to not allow so much negativity in my world and help to renew my mind daily.
- Practicing self-affirmations: As mentioned above, I would often speak such negative things about myself and I would actually accept those negative words and believe them. Then I learned the importance of watching the things that I say because they can get into my psyche and shape my life. For the last four years I began focusing on speaking positive affirmations to myself. I began speaking life back into my life. Whether it’s a positive quote or journaling, I’ve been consistent in doing this and have seen such a positive improvement in my mood and stress levels.
- Having the right people in your circle: Another thing that I learned was that I can’t have everybody on my team. There are some people who are just toxic and must be released from our lives in order for us to be able to move forward and prosper. I had to understand that not everyone who starts out with us, will be the same people to ride the journey with us or end up at our same destination. It’s important to be selective of the people that we allow in our circles because we can become just like the people that we spend our time with. I believe that, had I more of the right influences in my life sooner, I could probably be much further than where I am today. But… we live and learn. So, ‘lesson learned’. 😊
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
It would be the Wear Red Sunday movement that my friend and trainer Mark and I are working on now and created about two years ago. The blog dedicated to the movement has evolved and is currently focused on inspiring others to break free from unhealthy lifestyle choices.
We’ll continue working on making this movement flourish because we know that many people can/will be reached through the different congregations. I feel that the faith community is a great place to start this initiative because, like in many other organizations, this is where we find large groups of people who have settled into a lifestyle of unhealthy eating patterns, a lack of physical activity, and a lack of importance in maintaining regular doctor visits. This is a positive environment to start in because most people are already comfortable with the people that they worship with and they can provide support and accountability to one another.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
I wish someone would have told me:
- What to expect after having a heart attack. It would have cut down on so much of the anxiety that I experienced.
- Not to give so much of my time to fear and worry. To trust more and release the fear and worries that tortured me daily. I now understand that fear can be debilitating and worrying only made me stress over things that I had no control over. It held me back from accomplishing many wonderful things and took up too much of my valuable time and that was time that I could have been focusing to help other people.
- That if I’m afraid to step out and do something… just step out and do it anyway and trust that, “The rest will follow.” I wish that someone would have explained to me that if I just, “do it”… whatever it is, then something positive is bound to happen from taking that first step.
- That YES! I will definitely experience some challenging times, but I should not back down from them. Instead, I should keep pushing forward, focusing on helping others (and less on myself), and I would inevitably see the reward on the other side of the adversity…. Not just for others… but for myself as well.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me on my blog at https://rolandaperkins.blogspot.com. On my blog I share my thoughts with others to help them overcome things that they’re experiencing in life and to let them know that they are not alone in their struggles.
I also have a Facebook page for my Wear Red Sunday movement.
You can follow me on my Instagram (msrored) page.
Finally, you can learn more about high cholesterol as a major risk factor for heart disease at TakeCholesteroltoHeart.com, and follow the campaign on Facebook and Instagram @TakeCholesteroltoHeart for helpful information (and sometimes, advice from yours truly!).