In the past two days we learned of two beloved performers who died by a heart related cause. Carrie Fisher died from a massive heart attack, and George Michael died from heart failure.  Both were quite young, with many years ahead to delight their fans.

CNN reported today that Carrie Fisher stated she wasn’t afraid of death, but of dying.  She had sat with dying friends and recalled how she made them laugh. She hoped that someone like her would be near as she died.  Chances are that she was overwhelmed with pain and perhaps loss of consciousness.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined,” said Dr. Jennifer Mieres, professor of cardiology and population health at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in Hempstead, N.Y.

About once every minute a woman dies from a stroke, heart attack or a lesser-known problem called a sudden cardiac arrest, according to the American Heart Association. Sudden cardiac arrest differs from a heart attack. It’s not caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart; instead the heart’s electrical system stops working properly and can’t pump blood the way it should.

Ninety percent of all women have one or more heart disease risk factors, but the good news is that 80% of the problems can be prevented by controlling risk factors, according to the heart association. That means not smoking, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, drinking little alcohol and maintaining proper weight.

Sadly, getting diagnosed in the 80% isn’t that easy. It wasn’t until my first massive heart attack did I find someone who understood that as a healthy athletic, non-smoking, plant based eater, I was an outlier from the norm.  I did have another heart attack after that one, and now live with just over a third of a heart.

With such a small working heart I don’t get to engage in the things I love. Hiking, running, socializing, traveling and even working a full time job. If I wasn’t aware of all the signs of heart attack (don’t buy into the male vs female signs, because you need to know them all), I wouldn’t have survived them.

And like Fisher, I’m not afraid of death. The potential process of pain, loss of control, or inability to be out in nature terrifies me.

Ms. Fisher didn’t have time to get help. Fifteen minutes until landing is too long for survival of a massive heart attack.  The general rule of thumb is 3-10 minutes to get professional care. The tools for survival aren’t kept in a plane.

It’s a sad day for those of us with a history of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.  We know that could have been us.  Don’t let this happen to you.  See your doctor and demand testing for heart disease.  If s/he doesn’t want to test your heart, find another doctor.

Check out this list of tests to request