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Autumn Parry / The Californian

Regional Health Equity Director Malka Sierra answers questions after the press conference held for Go Red Por Tu Corazon at Memorial Hospital on Thursday morning.

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Autumn Parry / The Californian

Laura Arredondo, ambassador for the American Heart Association for Go Red Tu Corazon, takes a peach offered to promote healthy eating after the press conference held for Go Red Por Tu Corazon at Memorial Hospital on Thursday morning.

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Autumn Parry / The Californian

Michelle Willow puts a Go Red pin on Roya Armon's shirt after the press conference held for Go Red Por Tu Corazon at Memorial Hospital on Thursday morning. Go Red Por Tu Corazon is a heart health movement launched by the American Heart Association in 2009 to empower Latinas to learn the risks, symptoms and prevention for heart disease.

Theresa Camarena wakes up every morning and tells her kids she loves them. She no longer cooks fried food but instead steams a variety of vegetables for dinner every night and uses the oven regularly.

The 46-year-old has suffered two mild heart attacks in the past two years.

"I was scared and I was crying but I couldn't verbally say anything," Camarena said, describing the last time she was in the hospital a year ago. "All I was thinking was, 'I'm going to die, I don't want to die.'"

Camarena's near-death experience is one that many Latinas face on any given day, according to the new Go Red Por Tu Corazon campaign that aims to bring awareness about cardiovascular disease to Latinas. The campaign kicked off in Kern County on Thursday at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.

This is the first campaign for Latinas in Kern that talks about heart disease and Malka Sierra, regional health equity director for the American Heart Association, hopes Latinas will come together to fight the epidemic.

"To put it simple, Kern County has the highest number of people with heart disease in all of the state and more than half of the population in Bakersfield is Latinos," Sierra said.

As a Latina, Camarena grew up eating calorie-laden food, from tacos of carnitas to tamales and making homemade flour tortillas three times a day.

Camarena never looked at food labels and never thought twice about cooking homemade Mexican food.

But that changed in May of last year, when she frantically called her 29-year-old daughter to take her to the hospital because something was wrong.

"I had pain in my chest, up through my throat, up against my jaw and it got worse but I hadn't told anybody until 3 a.m. when I figured that it wasn't just going to pass," she said.

When she heard the words "you're having a major heart attack" from a nurse, it was then that Camarena prayed she would survive to get a third chance to change her life.

Her heart attack was controlled and she had her second angioplasty surgery at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital that night.

Doctor Atul Aggarwal, an interventional cardiologist, said most women aren't aware of how fast a heart attack or stroke can end a person's life, but women can work to prevent a heart attack.

"You want to control your high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes," Aggarwal said. "Modify your diet, stay physically active and do things to control problems in the future."

The Go Red Por Tu Corazon campaign will host activities throughout the year, such as Zumba-thons, cooking demonstrations, nutrition classes and other interactive classes for the community.

Discussing heart disease in the local Latino community is an important subject that Sierra hopes will encourage women to get checked by their doctors.

"As women, we know what our shoe and dress size is," Sierra said. "But when we think of a number that really matters like what is your cholesterol or blood pressure number, we are not aware of it at all and that is something we have to change."