Skater Rochette shares story for heart campaign

Olympic medallist Joannie Rochette shared emotional stories about her mother during the launch of a women's heart health campaign in Ottawa Saturday.

Researchers to unveil 11 heart disease genes

Joannie Rochette said her dream from childhood was to become a doctor. ((CBC))

Olympic medallist Joannie Rochette shared emotional stories about her mother during the launch of a women's heart health campaign in Ottawa Saturday.

Rochette, 24, recalled how she found a note in Thérèse Rochette's wallet shortly after her mother's sudden death from a heart attack during the Vancouver Olympics in February.

The note described how the elder Rochette was feeling, detailing signs of heart disease that she had not yet shared with either her doctor or her daughter.

"She ignored those symptoms, and to me, when I read that — it just makes me so mad that she kept it all to herself," said Rochette at the launch of the I Heart Mom campaign at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

Rochette's 55-year-old mother died Feb. 21, a day after she arrived in B.C. with her husband to watch her daughter compete in the Olympics. Four days later, Rochette impressed the world with her psychological mettle when she won a bronze medal in the women's free skate — Canada's first medal in women's figure skating since 1988.

On Saturday, Rochette, who is originally from Île Dupas, Que., talked at length about her special relationship with her mother, stopping at one point when she was overcome with emotion. Rochette said her dream since childhood had been to become a doctor, and she credited her mother with pushing her to do well in whatever she did, including school and skating.

Even though Thérèse Rochette was unsuccessful at quitting smoking, an addiction that began at age 12, she taught her daughter healthy habits, the figure skater said. Her mother was always very active, Joannie Rochette said, until an injury in a car accident eight years ago. After that, she could not work and became completely sedentary.

Dr. Robert Roberts, CEO of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, said institute researchers will soon announce 11 genes that play a role in heart disease. ((CBC))

"I just hope that my story can help … women know the symptoms better, know their body better, go to their doctors, get tested," she said, adding that if she can help with research to prevent heart disease or if she can get even one person to improve their lifestyle habits, she will be very happy.

The I Heart Mom campaign aims to raise awareness about heart disease in women, highlighting some of the differences in the prevention, understanding and treatment of heart disease in women compared with men.

For example, women's heart attack symptoms may not include the pain experienced by men. Instead, they may complain of fatigue, trouble sleeping, indigestion and anxiety, which are often misdiagnosed.

$100,000 donation kicks off campaign

The campaign will also raise funds for projects related to women’s heart health, including research, treatment and education. Saturday's launch included the announcement that anonymous donors had contributed $100,000 to kick off the campaign. As of Saturday, a fundraising goal had not yet been announced.

Dr. Robert Roberts, president and CEO of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, said this is an opportune time for a campaign like this because of recent advances in understanding genetic factors in heart disease.

In coming weeks, the institute's researchers will announce 11 genes that play a role, he said.

"Now that we've identified those genes," he added, "this will be the first time that you can have a combined initiative that will combine both conventional and genetic factors to prevent heart disease."

According to the heart institute, more than 25,000 Canadian women died of heart disease in 2005, making it the leading cause of death for women over 55.

Nevertheless, many women don't realize how deadly heart disease can be, said Dr. Kathryn Ascah, a cardiologist at the heart institute.

"There's so much we can do now to prevent heart attacks and major disabling damage to the heart if it's caught early," she added.