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Woman uses diagnosis to raise national awareness

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BATON ROUGE - A Baton Rouge woman became one of the faces of the "Go Red" heart health movement after discovering a potentially-deadly disorder.

Mary Leah Coco said when she was 30 she noticed she was always exhausted, light-headed, and dizzy. She chalked it up to her busy life.

"Your child is two, you're finishing your PhD, you work full time, you're a wife," she said, ticking off all the reasons she came up with for her symptoms, except heart disease.

Then during a checkup her doctors discovered a shock: her heart was enlarged, and only functioning at 10 percent. She was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, something her grandfather had been also been diagnosed with.

"I cried about it for a day," she told News 2. "I can be bitter or better, so I chose to be better and learn about my condition."

She said she learned heart disease is the number-one killer of women in Louisiana, accounting for 1 out of every 3 deaths. Doctors say women don't recognize it as their biggest threat, which is something Coco wanted to change.

"Heart disease doesn't just impact me," she said. "It impacts my entire family."

Now she's one of 10 national spokeswomen for the "Go Red" movement, spreading awareness and her story at lunches, speaches, and her blog "REDucation: How to laugh in the midst of heart failure."

"Don't ignore your health," she said. "see a doctor. If you think something's not right, you don't need anybody's permission."

Today, Coco is on track for a heart transplant. Until then she has a defibrillator implanted to her chest to help keep its rhythm correct, and takes nine different medications every day. She said she knows it's a lot of medication, but it keeps her here with her daughter and husband.

"I'll be able to swim, run, rock a grandchild, and continue fighting the fight against heart disease," she said.

You can learn more about the Go Red movement at the Capital Area Heart Walk coming up Saturday, April 13 at LSU's Old Front Nine.



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