Essence Harris Banks
Heart N Hands, Inc.
Sometimes the signs of heart disease are hidden.
Essence Harris Banks celebrates fifteen years as a heart disease survivor and recent Founder of Heart N Hands, Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on increasing awareness and educating young girls about heart disease prevention in the community. For the past fifteen years, Essence has been featured in The Times Picayune/NOLA.com (New Orleans), Woman’s Day Magazine, SELF Magazine, Shape Magazine, Today Show, WWL TV, several Clear Channel Radio Stations, American Heart Association National Awareness Campaigns, WomenHeart Champion & Spokeswoman, just to name a few. She has also received the Champion for Change in Healthcare Award from Crescent City Chapter (LA) of Links, Inc.
“In 2014, I wanted to do more to commemorate my fifteen years as a heart disease survivor, so I followed my passion to reach and teach young girls heart disease through my foundation, Heart N Hands, Inc. My intent is to raise awareness and decrease the number of heart related events in our communities.”
No one believed Essence Harris, local New Orleanian, when she said something was wrong and she wondered if her chest pains could be heart disease. At only 30 she was the picture of health – She worked out at least 3-5 times a week, full-time job, single mother, pursuing her MBA (received in December 2010) and at that time was even a part-time personal fitness trainer.
Of course they looked at me and said, ’30, no high cholesterol, no high blood pressure, doesn’t smoke, casually drinks, what is this from?’
Essence started having shortness of breath, not only during her daily workouts, but when she was carrying her son or the groceries. She told doctors something was wrong. When she visited her primary care physician she was told that she was only experiencing stress or anxiety panic attacks from her non-stop life and that she should take three days off from work. Essence knew there was more to the story and scheduled a visit with Dr. Sergio Schabelman, an internal medicine specialist at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans complaining of chest pains which was hard for him to believe. Test after test showed no problems related to heart disease until she took the treadmill stress test.
At about 9 minutes and 38 seconds on the treadmill both Essence and her cardiologist knew something was wrong. Her doctor scheduled an emergency angiogram that showed severe coronary artery disease – not mild or moderate – in two major arteries – she had blockages that were very severe. He immediately performed angioplasty to clear her arteries and Essence now has three permanent stents to keep her arteries open and will be on heart medication and require regular doctor visits for the rest of her life. Today, Essence is living life to the fullest and taking the necessary steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She currently volunteers with the National Coalition of Women with Heart Disease (www.WomenHeart.org) as a WomenHeart Champion to educate and improve the health and quality of life of women living with or at risk of heart disease, and to advocate for their benefit. Essence also works with the American Heart Association New Orleans GoRed Campaign and started nonprofit Heart N Hands, Inc. in 2014 to educate and raise awareness about heart health and heart disease prevention for young girls ages 10-18. Essence received the City Business of New Orleans Woman of the Year Award in 2017 and the Health & Wellness Hero Award from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Alpha Beta Omega Chapter. Essence enjoys spending quality time with her husband and 2 sons.
Essence Harris Banks