After losing her mother to heart disease last spring, Sanford Health nurse Jessica Pergande became inspired to live a life dedicated to heart health and encourages everyone to do the same.
“We need to live purposefully and be very intentional every day regarding heart health in order to give ourselves the best chance of living the longest, healthiest lives we can,” said Pergande, who also was recently crowned Mrs. Cass County International 2019 in North Dakota.
Pergande is partnering with the American Heart Association (AHA), where she is a registered volunteer, as part of her platform, which is “Heart Health: Be Inspired, Live for Life.” She raises awareness and educates the community by volunteering, promoting and attending heart events, where she often speaks.
Since her mom died, Pergande has raised about $4,000 for the AHA. “I have so many more plans, and I can’t wait to put them into action,” she said.
On March 12, 2018, Pergande’s mother woke up with sharp pain between her shoulder blades. She immediately knew something wasn’t right and thought it was a heart attack. ER doctors discovered she was actually experiencing an aortic dissection. That’s when blood flows through a tear in the artery wall and then in between the layers of the wall, weakening it.
“She was rushed into surgery, but as soon as she was under anesthesia, the dissection ruptured,” Pergande said. They were able to save her; however, she had multiple strokes from the extended CPR and couldn’t recover. Pergande and her family decided to take her mom, at age 64, off life support on March 15.
“After losing Mom, I began living a life dedicated to heart health, because as I found out, life can change in a second,” Pergande said. “I truly wake up every day with a heart-healthy goal in mind.”
Pergande had wanted to be a nurse since she was 9 years old. She works in the admissions recovery unit at Sanford Medical Center Fargo.
As a registered nurse, she has always believed in living a healthy, active lifestyle. She has always thought, “How can I care for others if I don’t care for myself?”
“I have cared for many patients with heart disease. I have seen the effect it has on their quality of life and their families,” she said.
Pergande says losing her mom to heart disease has affected her practice and inspired her to educate her patients. “We do so many things as nurses, but we need to take credit for the education we provide to our patients and their families,” she says.
Education: signs and symptoms
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, caused one of every three deaths in the United States in 2016. It’s the leading cause of death worldwide and in the U.S., where it claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined.
A big part of Pergande’s platform is education. This includes teaching about signs and symptoms of heart disease, factors contributing to it, prevention methods and how to prevent exacerbation in patients with chronic heart disease.
She says having an active lifestyle and a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are the major components of heart health. “It starts with education,” she says. “Nearly 80 percent of cardiac events are preventable.”
Pergande recommends putting less salt and more bright colors on our plates, such as fruits and vegetables. She also encourages adults to get 30 minutes of physical activity a day, while kids should aim for 60. It’s OK to break up activity into smaller segments if needed.
“Maintaining a normal blood pressure is extremely important, so make sure you know your numbers,” Pergande said. She encourages people to see their health professionals to make sure their blood pressure is at a healthy level. Some risk factors, such as age, gender, family history and predisposition, can’t be controlled. But she’s confident risk factors can be counteracted with healthy lifestyle choices.
How Pergande is spreading awareness
Pergande makes local news appearances and attends and fundraises at many events. She has been a part of the Lakes Area Heart Walk and Red River Valley Heart Walk. And she also has put on charity classes at fitness gyms, with all of the proceeds going to the American Heart Association.
“My children and I founded ‘Lemonade for Life,’ which is a lemonade stand run by children and supervised by parents,” she said. All of the donations from the stand go directly to the AHA.
“This stand has been incredible because it puts kids in the driver’s seat,” Pergande said. “They are the ones donating the funds to the AHA.” She says the stand makes them feel like superheroes and inspires them to get involved and keep hearts beating.
Everyone can learn
Pergande involves all ages in heart disease education. She believes it’s never too early, or too late, to become aware. “I have read to children at day cares and preschools and hope to teach more kids how to keep their hearts healthy,” she said.
In March, she was a keynote speaker at a Girl Scout workshop, talking about the AHA and healthy lifestyle choices.
“We need to be relentless, intentional and extremely active when it comes to heart-health education. It raises much-needed awareness, and knowledge is power,” Pergande said.
Pergande is grateful for the businesses that get involved in her platform. She said the most important part, though, is influencing others.
“I’ve received so many messages and emails from individuals telling me it was my social media posts, fundraisers, events, etc., that inspired them to go see their doctor due to symptoms they were having,” she said. “I’ve had people thank me for inspiring them to completely change their diet, and for helping them get off the couch.” Pergande says that kind of difference is the reason she works so hard in the community.
Learn more about heart health
Pergande encourages people to use the American Heart Association website. That’s her main resource. “There are so many educational articles, heart-healthy recipes, inspirational stories and information on upcoming events,” she said.
The AHA website also has an online form for those who would like to become a volunteer.
The Sanford Heart and Vascular Symposium is coming up April 11 at the Delta Hotel in Fargo.
You can count on Pergande to be there, motivated to spread her message that every person she meets can have a healthier heart.
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