MERRILLVILLE | Four months before her 30th birthday, Jennifer Buss underwent a mitral valve prolapse correction.
It didn't matter the Lowell woman was fit and young, raising two sons and playing softball in her free time. Heart disease still touched her life, just as it had her grandmother, father and son Zack.
Buss shared her story Thursday at the annual American Heart Association Go Red for Women educational symposium luncheon at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza.
A doctor heard a murmur in Buss' heart when she was 8, but nothing was done and no treatment was recommended. At 25, a new doctor said surgery would be needed in the future.
Five years later, after passing out at the wheel, her doctor said, "It's time."
"We had to sit down our 6-year-old (Zack) and 8-year-old (Nate) and tell them Mommy was sick and needed surgery," she said.
Zack, who had open heart surgery as an infant, told her, "You can do it, Mommy. Just like I did."
Her condition was corrected, and she is monitored regularly.
"Heart disease is not just for men," she said. "Heart disease is not just for old people. Heart disease does affect women who are young and healthy."
Diana Gore, of Michigan City, shared her story. She thought her arm was sore from pulling weeds. A visit to the doctor found it was more serious.
"You're dying," she recalled the doctor saying. "We need to get you to the hospital."
She spent 12 hours on an operating table undergoing a quadruple bypass.
Gore sees her recovery as a second chance and uses opportunities to speak to women about the importance of taking care of themselves.
"Listen to your body," she said. "It will talk to you."
Thursday's event started with a vendor fair that included free health screenings.
Laurel Valentino, a nurse and director of the neuroscience institute at Methodist Hospitals, said screenings are a good way to catch possible problems, so people can follow up with their doctors.
The Go Red luncheon helps spread the message of heart disease and stroke awareness, said Sherry Mosier, a nurse and stroke coordinator with Methodist Hospitals.
"These events help people become more aware of vascular disease," she said.
Diet, exercise and healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels are important, Mosier said.
Methodist Hospitals was named a 2013 Fit-Friendly Worksite by the American Heart Association and was awarded the American Heart Association's Get With The Guidelines Gold Plus award for stroke care.