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Heart attack at 36 drives local survivor to advocate for women's heart health

Renee Buczel wants women to become more aware of cardiovascular disease, which affects one in every three women globally
Renee Buczel holds a photo of her father Yves Lapointe, who died from a massive heart attack in 2008. Buczel experienced her own heart attack in 2020 at the age of 36 and is raising awareness for women's heart health through Wear Red Canada, held every year on Feb. 13.

For heart attack survivor Renee Buczel, the day before Valentine’s Day holds special meaning as it marks Wear Red Canada day, an event that raises awareness about women’s heart health.

In August of 2020, when she was just 36 years old, Buczel experienced a heart attack while spending time at camp with her husband and two young children, at the time ages three and four.

”My kids wanted to go swimming and they wanted to like run around and I just didn't even have the energy to keep up with them,” said Buczel of her symptoms leading up to the heart attack. “Later I like woke up from a dead sleep with just a crazy sharp pain, like somebody had driven something into my chest.”

Buczel knew heart disease ran in her family. Her father, Yves Lapointe, died from a massive heart attack in 2008.

”I initially started to panic a little bit and I said: 'Oh my God, am I having a heart attack?’" she recalled. “And I'm like: ‘I’m 36, I can't possibly be having a heart attack.’”

Buczel said she convinced herself everything was alright and went back to bed. “My husband came in my room around lunchtime and said we need to get going back to town, and I said to him: ‘I think I had a heart attack this morning.’"

He took her to Sault Area Hospital, where initial tests showed some damage to her heart. She was admitted and referred to a cardiologist who ordered an angiogram.

”I think [the cardiologist] went into it thinking like all was gonna be okay and then when we got into the cath lab he saw the blocked artery and that I needed a stent and that I actually had like cardiovascular disease,” she recalled.

As she recovered, Buczel thought about her young children and her own experiences losing a parent to heart disease.

Eventually she was admitted into the YMCA’s cardiac rehab program, where every visit she pushed herself to improve her heart health.

”I had my heart attack and it was just kind of like an eye-opener. It’s almost three and a half years later and I still wake up every day at 5 a.m. to work out,” said Buczel. ”I want to be here for my kids because I've lost my parents and I lost my dad and I know if there's anything that I can control, I'm going to make the most of it.”

Over the past four years, Buczel has shared her journey through social media and with organizations like the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre. Every year on Feb.13, it funds an event called Wear Red Canada to raise awareness for women’s heart health.

Last month, Buczel was a finalist for the Young Athena award handed out during the 2024 Algoma Visionary Awards Gala in recognition for her advocacy work.

Globally, cardiovascular disease affects one out of every three women, yet women are under-studied, under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-aware, says a web site for Wear Red Canada.

“February is the month of love, where you take care of the people you love and give them flowers,” said Buczel. “But what you really need to do is take care of yourself.”

Since her heart attack scare, Buczel and her family mark the event every year by dressing in all red.

“The kids go to school head to toe [in red] and I go to work in red. I work out in the morning all in red and I ask everybody to wear red, also,” she said.

A few years ago, Buczel hired a local photographer to capture her wearing a red dress to raise awareness and show that heart disease doesn't only affect men.

In some cities, local landmarks like the CN Tower are lit red to help raise awareness for the event. 

Sault Ste. Marie’s landmark water tower at the Water Tower Inn will coincidentally be lit red this week for Valentine’s Day, including on Tuesday the 13th.

Buczel was working toward having a resolution prepared for city council about the Wear Red Canada event, but the tragic loss of her friend Angie Sweeney and her advocacy efforts with the Angie’s Angels group that came as a result prevented that from happening.

”I would have loved to get to that this year, but there has been other things that have been going on that kind of took away from raising awareness [for women’s heart health] this year,” she said.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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