Champions of women's heart health

Forum highlights student-designed red dresses, heart-healthy recipes and more

Amparo Villablanca and Crystal Ching © UC Regents
Dr. Amparo Villablanca and Crystal Ching

Crystal Ching has no family history of heart disease. She is under 50. Her cholesterol is low. She maintains a healthy weight. Yet she has heart disease.

“Suddenly one day I was overwhelmed by fatigue, general upper body pain and nausea,” said the Sacramento business owner. “When my husband said I could be having a heart attack, I told him it was impossible because I was too young.”

A stress test and angiogram, however, showed three blockages in her blood vessels, one of which was 90 percent occluded and could have been life threatening.  

“Crystal describes herself as the new poster child for heart disease,” said Amparo Villablanca, Ching’s UC Davis cardiologist. “She is proof that it is not just a disease of older people. And even though heart disease kills more women than men, most women do not think they are at risk and are not aware it is their leading killer.”

Know your numbers

Ching shared her heart-disease recovery story at the Feb. 22 Women’s Heart Care Education and Awareness Forum, which is held in Sacramento each year during National Heart Month and hosted by the UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program.

The event brought more than 300 community leaders together to hear the latest information on heart-disease prevention. Attendees were encouraged to wear red — especially red dresses — the national symbol of solidarity in raising awareness of heart disease in women.

A heart-healthy cookbook

The UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program has printed a collection of recipes to help those with heart-disease risk factors change their diets.

The recipes help reduce salt and fat in the diet without sacrificing taste.

For a copy of the cookbook, click here.

Villablanca, director of the Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program, encouraged all women at the event to "know their numbers," including their triglyceride levels and blood pressure, so they can actively track their heart disease risk factors. She also asked them to learn the warning signs of a heart attack, some of which are unique for women, and to call 9-1-1 if they experience any of the symptoms.

A deeply personal disease

To broaden the heart-health message across generations, the forum showcased red dresses designed by UC Davis fashion design students and created through a unique partnership Villablanca established in 2010 with the UC Davis Department of Design.

“This is the fourth year that some of our advanced fashion design students have unveiled red dresses at the forum, and I am always fascinated with how unique each and every dress is,” said Adele Zhang, a lecturer in the design department and mentor for the student designers. “The process highlights the deeply personal nature of heart disease while sharing important prevention messages with the broader public.”

'A different person now'

More information about heart health for women is available at

Ching is definitely a believer in the power of prevention. Her primary diseased vessel now has a stent, and she has taken steps to ensure that she doesn’t have another cardiac event.

“I am a different person today,” she said. “I don’t eat meat, I’ve cut way back on the fat in my diet and I go to a gym regularly. I work hard every day on controlling my heart disease, even though it doesn’t look like I have to.”

The forum was funded in part by the Nora Eccles Treadwell Foundation and cosponsored by the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities. Television station Univision 19 was a media partner for the event.