Queen Latifah remembers the initial shock of hearing about her mother’s diagnosis with heart failure (HF).

“It was very difficult to hear ‘failure’ being associated with my mom’s health,” she sums. Her mother, Rita Owens, a former art teacher who touched so many lives through her work, has now been living with HF for more than 10 years.

Adopting a new normal

“It’s not easy to see someone you care so much about feeling constantly fatigued, unable to walk up the stairs and having trouble breathing just doing simple things like bending over to tie her shoes or laying down,” says Queen. “My mom is my rock. I just couldn’t believe that someone who cared for me, and so many others all her life, now needed special care of her own.”

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS: In addition to raising awareness fo heart failure, Queen is also implementing healthier choices at home and daily excercise — both essential to staying heart healthy.

For the millions of people who care for a loved one suffering from HF, this is a familiar situation. HF is a chronic, lifelong condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood around the body. It impacts nearly 6 million Americans, including 3 million women. And this number is expected to grow.

There are important symptoms to recognize, including difficulty breathing, fatigue and swelling of the feet, ankles and legs, but often people don’t notice them and, if they do, they may mistake them as signs of other conditions or simply old age.

Rising above heart failure

Her mother’s diagnosis sparked Queen to take charge and spread the word about HF. Hand-in-hand with her mother, she’s joined Rise Above Heart Failure, a national disease awareness and education initiative created by the American Heart Association and nationally supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, to raise awareness of HF, to help others understand the signs and symptoms of the condition and how to manage it.

“‘It was very difficult to hear ‘failure’ being associated with my mom’s health.’”

As the daughter of a HF patient, Queen is passionate about the needs of both patients and caregivers. “There are ways to help manage the condition,” says Queen. “It takes a village to rise above heart failure: patients, family, nurses and physicians. It’s important for patients and caregivers to talk to your doctor and ask the right questions, because there are steps you can take to manage the condition.”

Queen and her entire family have taken steps to be healthier, including changes to their diet and getting some exercise each day. She encourages those impacted by the disease to talk to their health care providers about the numerous tools out there, such as the American Heart Association’s new HF guidelines, for help with HF treatment and management.

A call to action

“Heart failure is a significant issue that can’t be solved by any one person or organization alone,” Queen says. “We’ve made progress, but the fight isn’t over.” She’s especially excited to step up her advocacy efforts by working with the American Heart Association on the Red Steps Challenge, a national movement that encourages Americans to take a proactive approach to heart health by putting on their favorite pair of red socks, sharing a photo and “donating” the steps they are taking to “rise above” heart failure.

“I really just want the millions of people that are touched by HF in some way or another to share their story and to speak up about the condition,” Queen adds. “With the right education and support, you can do something about it.”