Toni Braxton still doesn't recall all the details of that frightening night back in 2003. The Grammy winner who burst on the scene in the early '90s with her sultry hit Unbreak My Heart was starring in Aida on Broadway.
It was intermission and she felt strange, sort of woozy, when suddenly . . . suddenly . . . "My dresser said I passed out," Braxton recalls. "None of us thought it was a very good sign. I wasn't able to finish the show."
Sitting in the ER later that night, waiting for the doctors, heart disease was the furthest thing from her mind. Yes, she had been fatigued, easily winded and had felt a strange tightness in her chest. But she had just had her second son, Diezel. His older brother, Denim, was only 2. And rehearsing was exhausting. Maybe it was her childhood asthma returning, she thought. But not heart disease. That's for old men.
"I just didn't believe it could happen to me," says Braxton, now 40, who was diagnosed with pericarditis, an inflammation of the heart lining. The bigger problem, she realizes now, is that "many women think that way."
So Braxton is "going red" this month - along with first lady Laura Bush, plus a host of celebrities and fashion designers, all supporting the "Go Red for Women" campaign of the American Heart Association. The idea is to spread awareness about heart disease, the leading killer of women.
Bush kicked things off Feb. 1, National Wear Red Day, appearing at the sixth annual Red Dress Collection fashion show in New York. The annual event is sponsored by the Heart Truth, Go Red's sister campaign run by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Walking the runway in red-hot designer dresses were such celebs as Lisa Rinna, Heidi Klum, Ashanti, Rita Moreno and Liza Minnelli.
"We all have things we need to do for our families and loved ones, and we keep ignoring our own discomforts," says Braxton, who was also recently diagnosed with high blood pressure. (She now takes medication, avoids salty foods and hits a treadmill 20 minutes a day.)
"That's why I wanted to spread the word," she says. "Pay attention to what's going on with you. A moment to look at what's going on in your health may seem like an inconvenience, but it just may save your life."