NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – February is Heart Month, a time to focus on your heart heath.

The American Heart Association is kicking things off Friday, Feb. 3 with its annual Go Red for Women luncheon, which is back in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The theme for this year’s luncheon is “Be the Beat,” which is all about knowing your own health, the warning signs of cardiovascular disease, and how to help one another.

For Norfolk State University student To’Niah Harrison, the cause is deeply personal. That’s because she spent the first few months of her life in the hospital.

“I have aortic atresia with ventricular septal defect, which means that aortic atresia is that an arch in my heart did not form,” Harrison said. “Ventricular septal defect means there’s a hole in my heart that’s not supposed to be there.”

Doctors predicted she would only live for three years, but she’s now a senior at Norfolk State and an advocate for heart health.

“There’s a lot of challenges naturally after being born with a diagnosis like that, it’s pretty intense,” Harrison said.

It’s hard to count just how many surgeries and procedures she’s gone through, but one type of procedure is special.

“I’m actually thankful that the American Heart Association was actually able to fund research that led to cardiac cath labs so that, during my treatment, as I’ve progressed, I’ve been able to avoid a quote, ‘open heart’ surgery,” Harrison said. “They’ve been able to use a catheterization going through my neck or groin that have been able to repair the issue that way, so it’s less risk than having to cut your chest open, go through that anesthesia.”

That’s why Harrison is encouraging women to attend this year’s Go Red for Women luncheon next week, co-chaired by Dana Beckton and and Nneka Chiazor.

“We all know that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, more than all cancers combined,” said Nneka Chiazor, Cox Communications Hampton Roads Market vice president.

They want women to know the realities of heart disease and encourage them to take charge of their own health.

“Research has shown that women tend to not get some of the same therapies and same treatments as men,” said Dana Beckton, Sentara Healthcare chief diversity officer. “Also, underrepresented minorities tend to not get the same treatments.”

While Go Red will be a fun event, it will also provide resources and education for women. It will also have a health and wellness expo, along with information about the importance of hands-only CPR.

“We want every woman to be the beat for each other,” Beckton said. “We want to be able to listen to our heart, not only our physical heart, but our mental heart. Like be the beat and recognize the cadence to your life.”

Beckton and Chiazor also hope women enjoy their time together.

“What better way to celebrate being alive at this time than to celebrate your health as a woman, particularly your heart health,” Chiazor said.

Go Red also promises to inspire, with stories from survivors like Harrison, who is now pursuing her own career in medicine, thanks, in part, to research funded by the AHA.

“It’s led me to want to do that,” Harrison said, “so I can help others the way they’ve helped me.”

Want to go?

The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Health and Wellness Expo and Luncheon will take place Friday, Feb. 3 at the Hilton Norfolk The Main at 100 East Main St. Its theme is “Be the Beat.” Events kick off with the Wellness Expo from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., followed by the Luncheon from noon to 1 p.m. For more information, contact Laura Bynum at or call 757-812-4654, or click here.