Why a 91-Year-Old Great-Grandmother Took to the Catwalk

03/27/2013 12:11 EDT | Updated 05/27/2013 05:12 EDT

As women, we take our health for granted. We're mothers who put our children and spouses first and daughters who care for our elderly parents. We are often so busy looking after others, we don't take care of ourselves.

That's why, six years ago, the Heart and Stroke Foundation launched The Heart Truth campaign. To empower women with knowledge. To make sure that women understand their risks and have the knowledge and support to make the necessary changes. And it was for this very reason that celebrities, heart disease and stroke survivors, top fashion designers and some very special golden girls joined forces with the Heart and Stroke Foundation to highlight the importance of women's heart health at the sixth annual Heart Truth Fashion Show at World MasterCard® Fashion Week in Toronto last week.

We were incredibly fortunate to have some inspiring women from the worlds of sports, television, film, music, and media grace the runway, including Olympic Gold medalists Hayley Wickenheiser and Jamie Salé, actress Lauren Holly, singer-songwriter Liona Boyd, and "So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer Stacey Tookey, modeling signature red dresses and one-of-a-kind creations by top Canadian fashion designers. The Red Dress is the official symbol of The Heart Truth campaign. It symbolizes strength and confidence, and represents women's courage, passion and their power for change.

Joining the runway lineup this year for the first time were The Heart Truth's Models of Health: Margaret Abbott-Brown, 75; Claire MacDonnell, 83; and Gladys Wenger, 91. These three starring seniors were chosen for exemplifying living well into their senior years as a result of making heart healthy choices throughout their lives, and they had the packed house up on their feet as they took their turns on the catwalk. The Models of Health program drew more than 245 entries from across Canada.

Heart disease survivor Janet Parr and Heather Nutt-Christensen, who suffered a stroke at age 33, also acted as models this year, sharing their personal stories that highlight the need for women to make their own heart health a priority.

All of these incredible women donned the red dress for a reason ... to inspire women across Canada to Make Health Last. What do I mean by this? Well many of us hope to live a long life or live to a "ripe old age." But that misses a big piece of the puzzle. Because it's not about living a long life. It's about living a long life well.

The Heart Truth is ... heart disease and stroke is a leading cause of death for Canadian women, but most don't know it. Heart disease is not a "man's disease" -- women are more likely than men to die of a heart attack or stroke. But by taking care of themselves and making incremental changes, women can reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 80% and make health last.

The Heart Truth is ... few women are aware of their risk factors and how to manage them, and they often ignore their symptoms until too late. Although nine in 10 women have at least one significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke, just as many think they are healthy. In fact, many women are unaware of their risk factors and how to manage them, and often ignore their symptoms.

The Heart Truth campaign shines a spotlight on the crisis of women and cardiovascular disease in Canada. Heart disease and stroke doesn't discriminate, it strikes both men and women, young and old and the effects can not only be devastating, but fatal. Especially for women. For years airlines have instructed parents traveling with small children to slip on their own oxygen mask first in the event of an emergency. At some point ladies, we need to "put on our own oxygen mask first" and prioritize our heart health. Our children will not only benefit from more time with their mother, but may be inspired themselves to make health last.

Lets work together to create a heart healthy culture where making the healthy choice is the easy choice for not just some of us -- but for all of us.

This is the way to share the Heart Truth.

Women are encouraged to assess their risk for heart disease and stroke, and find questions to ask their doctor at The Heart Truth campaign gratefully acknowledges the support of founding sponsor, Becel, and contributing sponsors Chatelaine, Post Shredded Wheat, and Health Check™, without whom the program would not be possible.

See photos from Toronto Fashion Week Fall 2013

Toronto Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2013