MaryAnn Nason is a Ponte Vedra resident and WomenHeart Champion after graduating from the
Science and Leadership Symposium (S&L) at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Can you please briefly tell us about your background?
My husband and I moved to Ponte Vedra five years ago from the DC area where I worked
at George Mason University in the Undergraduate Honors Program, as well as in various
volunteer roles. We have three children and two grandchildren.
What is your journey with heart disease?
In April 2017, I had a breast MRI due to an increased risk of breast cancer. The
radiologist at Mayo Clinic reported an incidental finding of a 4.3-centimeter ascending aortic
aneurysm. Upon further testing, an 8-millimeter tumor was also discovered in the ascending
aorta. Since I do not have any significant medical history, this came as a shock. The
tumor is rare and there has not been much, if any, viable research done on this condition. I
got as many different opinions as doctors I talked to. I combed through NIH case studies.
The tumor measured 8 millimeters, which is quite small. Due to the degree of mobility and the risk that it may cause, however, I chose to have it removed. In August 2017, I had open heart surgery to remove the tumor. That ended up being a very good choice because the tumor ended up being 2.2 centimeters.
What does it mean to be a WomenHeart Champion?
After my open-heart surgery, my cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic nominated me to become a
WomenHeart Champion. I was chosen to attend the WomenHeart Science and
Leadership Symposium in Rochester, Minnesota in October 2018. WomenHeart is the
National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. WomenHeart is the only national
organization dedicated to advancing women’s heart health through advocacy, community
education and patient support. As the leading voice for the more than 43 million American
women living with or at risk for heart disease, WomenHeart advocates for equal access to
quality care and provides information and resources to help women take charge of their
heart health. As a WomenHeart Champion, I can support our mission in many different
roles. It is an honor to be part of this wonderful organization!
We understand you have some events coming up in the community. Can you please tell us
February is Heart Month! It is time to rock the red and bring awareness to women living
with and at risk for heart disease. You will find me around our community handing out
Red Bags of Courage with interesting facts about the unique issues pertaining to women
and heart disease. Men are also welcome to pick up a Red Bag of Courage for the women
in their lives.
What’s your message to other women, both those living with heart disease and those not?
Start the conversation. Educate yourself. Know the symptoms. In my case, I had
consistently presented at doctor visits with high blood pressure. I was told it was stress or
hormones or “white coat syndrome,” meaning I was nervous while visiting the doctor. In
retrospect, I realize that those responses by doctors were an opportunity for me to start a
conversation. Traditionally, doctors will take a man who presents with chronic high blood
pressure more seriously than a woman. It turns out I did have chronic high blood pressure
and now have permanent heart damage. Heart disease has long been thought of as a man’s
disease, yet women are dying at greater rates. Simply put, women’s symptoms are often
dismissed. WomenHeart is focused on gender equality in all areas of women’s heart health.
What do you enjoy most about living in Ponte Vedra?
Everything! The beaches, the restaurants, the slower pace. One of the exciting things I am
finding since I started this journey with WomenHeart is the amazing women I am meeting.
Women who are courageous and smart and invested in supporting each other.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Bike riding, walking and getting together with friends is what I love to do … and it keeps me
healthy. Since none of our kids live in Florida, my husband and I enjoy traveling to visit them
and, of course, they love coming here!