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Five heart attacks later, mom spreads risk awareness message in Heart Month

Bill and Tammika Glass celebrate her "heart birthday" at a Feb. 1 kickoff event for National Heart Awareness Month. Tammika, 40, received a heart transplant on Feb. 1, 2015, after suffering five massive heart attacks in 2014, despite being healthy and having no hereditary risk. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

On the morning of Jan. 28, 2014, Tammika Glass woke up in her West Side home feeling a little off, like she had a belch that wouldn’t come up.

She remembers nothing else before waking up in the hospital four days later.

“The feeling in my chest hadn’t been alarming, didn’t make me think anything was wrong,” Glass, 40, said at a Feb. 1 kickoff here for American Heart Month.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. It kills more women than men — a woman every 80 seconds — and claims more lives than all cancer types combined, according to the American Heart Association, which launched the Go Red for Women movement to sound the alarm 14 years ago.

Glass, who is married and today lives in Aurora with a blended family of seven children, was physically fit — no hereditary or other risk factors — when her heart gave out.

Tammika Glass, who’s nickname is “Niki,” celebrates her “heart birthday” at a Feb. 1 kickoff event for National Heart Awareness Month. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

“The main artery on the left side had come completely in half and started to dissect into the other two branches. A small blood clot formed. I had five heart attacks and flatlined four times,” Glass recounts.

But Feb. 1 is also her “heart birthday.” The heart she received in a Jan. 31, 2015, transplant started beating in her chest 2 minutes after midnight.

Glass has dedicated herself to spreading awareness of heart health. She’ll be a keynote speaker at the Annual Go Red For Women Luncheon on Feb. 23 at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

“She survived the odds. She is such an inspiration,” said American Heart Association Chicago Board President Karen Larimer.

Because 80 percent of heart diseases are preventable, people are encouraged to get educated on risk factors such as blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol and lack of exercise, she said, and to know such critical health numbers as their cholesterol and blood sugar.

Glass received her new heart after a 172-day stay at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. That makes her a poster child twofold, said Marion Shuck of Chicago-area Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.

Nationally, more than 115,000 people await organ donations.

“She’s why it’s so important for people across the country to participate in the organ and tissue donation process. By the time we go home tonight, 22 people will have died waiting for an organ that’s not going to arrive,” Shuck said.

The Glasses say that’s why they devote so much time to telling their story.

“There are no words to explain our gratitude for the gift of new life. God bless the hero that gave us that heart,” said Glass’ husband, Bill.