By Carrie Vittitoe

Once you’ve had a cardiac event, you are branded by the experience; you wear the “H” of heart disease in everything you do. Francine Bednar, 38 of Crestwood, Kentucky, was only 29 years old when she suffered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection a week after delivering her twins. That experience has influenced how she treats others and how she raises her children.

For three to four months following her heart attack, Francine was very restricted in her activities. She was unable to lift more than 10 pounds and couldn’t twist her upper body or get her heart rate above a certain point. This would be challenging for anyone but especially a mother of not only twin infants but three other small children as well. “The hardest part was not being able to run after the kids,” she says. She often felt very isolated because of her heart disease because she wasn’t able to get out and about like other young mothers did.

For Francine, wearing the “H” has meant exercising daily and encouraging heart health in her family. She has three rules for her kids: “Drink a lot of water, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and stay active.” She and her husband, Eric, have taken their children hiking out West, regularly play kickball outside, and have dance parties inside to stay healthy and build family ties.

Wearing the “H” also means helping others, especially those who are going through difficult challenges. “I know how important it is to talk about things that no one else wants to talk about,” she says. Francine’s experience has helped her to become a better listener. She has a profound sense of gratitude, especially when she attends her children’s school and extracurricular events. “I cry all the time because I almost didn’t get to be a part of it,” she says.