WESTERLY — On the day after Christmas last year, Tia Emard knew something was wrong.
“I just kind of felt funny, a pain in my back,” said Emard, a Westerly native and the administrative assistant in the technology department of the Westerly Public Schools.
She took some Advil, but it kept getting worse. Emard texted her husband and said she hoped she wasn’t having a heart attack. Her husband, Jeremy, thought she might be tired from the holidays. But her symptoms persisted.
“I said, ‘I need to go get checked out,’” she said.
Emard drove herself to a local urgent care facility, where doctors performed an EKG and discovered part of her heart wasn’t working.
“They transported me to Lawrence and Memorial Hospital,” in New London, she said. “I was so frightened during that trip. All I could think about was my son, Aidan.”
He was only 4 years old at the time.
After some tests, she spoke with her cardiologist and learned she had suffered a heart attack. There were no tears or leakages in her heart, but the doctors did find a blockage.
In a 45-minute procedure, doctors inserted a stent to open up the obstruction and allow blood to flow to her heart.
The procedure worked well, but the health scare affected Emard. She thought about her son, now 5.
“That was a wake-up call,” she said. “I’ve got to be healthy for him.”
It inspired her to give back, to raise money for heart health issues and to spread awareness, especially about the importance of getting checked out and listening to one’s own body.
“If I could help even one person, I’ve done my part,” she said.
Emard, 46, said it’s critical to know the warning signs of a heart attack, and that they’re different in women and men.
“I had extreme back pain, which is more common for women,” she said. Other symptoms can be pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw and stomach. Shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness and breaking out in a cold sweat can also be symptoms.
“I’m very lucky I went when I did, because there’s no damage to my heart,” she said.
Emard is doing her part now, by raising money and serving as a spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Greater Westerly Heart Walk, which will take place Sept. 22.
The walk raises money to fund research, advocate for health and save lives. Last year, participants raised $46,000.
Co-workers, friends and family have joined Tia’s Team, about 40 to 50 people who will take part in the 5-mile walk in Watch Hill. The event’s check-in begins at 8 a.m. at the Watch Hill Gazebo, 151 Bay St. with a 9 a.m. start time.
Participants in the Heart Walk can take a heart-healthy 2-mile or 5-mile walk. The event is rain or shine.
More information on the Heart Association and the Heart Walk can be found at GreaterWesterlyHeartWalk.org and on Facebook at the 2018 Greater Westerly Heart Walk.
Emard said she feels great today.
“I changed my lifestyle, I’m down 50 pounds,” she said. “I continue to be active. I have a 5-year-old and I need to be healthy for him and myself. Every day is a special occasion for me.”