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Heart disease survivors form 'sisterhood'

Wednesday - 2/29/2012, 6:43am  ET

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From left to right: Katherine Leon, Wanda Jackson, and Eileen Williams. (WTOP/Paula Wolfson)

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - They bond face to face and online, at hospital support groups and on message boards.

In many ways, they are very different: Old and young, obese and thin, fit and self-described "candidates for bad behavior."

The women with "broken" hearts could not be a more diverse bunch. And yet their common illness binds them together to the point where they become what they call "a sisterhood."

"We all talk the same language," says Katherine Leon of Alexandria, Va.

She had a heart attack at 38 shortly after the birth of her second son, and turned to the internet for information. What she found was a community of women offering support.

"We all were on the same page...and it was phenomenal," she says. "I jumped both feet into the sisterhood."

Leon began with an online message board run by WomenHeart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. It was through the organization that she first ran into Eileen Williams, a heart attack survivor from Manassas, Va.

"I met Katherine in a parking lot one day to transfer stuff," she says. "Never met her before in my life, but I knew her."

Williams, a Prince William County emergency medical technician, says she was in denial after her own heart attack, and the sisterhood made all the difference. She says there may be breakthrough drugs, but the support of other survivors is really the best medicine.

"Just knowing you are not by yourself -- I can't even describe it," she says.

WomenHeart runs support groups across the country. One of the newest is in Prince George's County, operating through Doctors Community Hospital and Prince George's Hospital.

Wanda Jackson of Forestville, Md. says she wasn't aware of any local support groups after her first heart attack almost two decades ago. When she first learned about them at a church health fair, she went from one group to another looking for the right fit.

"Each one is different and unique, but yet still they have that common factor where the women are there for the sisterhood, for each other," she says. "This is not necessarily a club that you are throwing up your arms and hands and legs to join."

If you're looking for women's support services, also check out Sister to Sister and Go Red for Women.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)