'Beverly Hills 90210' star takes Go Red for Women event's cause to heart

'Beverly Hills 90210' star takes Go Red for Women event's cause to heart

CHAMPAIGN — Growing up in Urbana and Arcola, "Beverly Hills 90210" star Jennie Garth always saw her dad driving tractors, plowing fields and exerting himself physically to provide for her family. To her, John Garth was a "big, strong hero."

But when she was 10 years old, Garth watched her father's health deteriorate after he suffered a heart attack and was later diagnosed with arterial sclerosis at just 35 years old.

"I saw him go from plowing fields and being active to being fearful that any kind of exertions would cause another heart attack," Garth said. "I was devastated at the thought of losing him. And over the course of years, I wanted to get educated and find out everything I could about heart disease."

What Garth learned was that as a woman, she was just as likely to die from heart disease as a man.

That's why she chose to stand Friday in front of more than 200 women dressed in red for this year's Champaign Go Red for Women luncheon — to encourage her audience to be mindful of heart disease in their lives.

Garth certainly is.

When she moved to Los Angeles and began working on "90210," she found a cardiologist and regularly checked her heart for signs that something could be wrong. She thought she would be the exception in her family gene pool and not develop heart problems, but later found out she had "leaky valve."

"It's not a serious thing, but it's something I keep an eye on, and as I get older, it's something I'll always stay knowledgeable on," Garth said. "Knowledge is key. It just reminds me how important it is to take care of myself and be connected to my body."

That's the same message the American Heart Association wants to drive home for women: Be mindful of how hard you work.

Anne Dill, chairwoman of the Friday's AHA-sponsored event, said she wanted to leave women feeling more informed, empowered and inspired to raise their voices for heart health. She may not have any immediate family or friends with heart conditions, she said, but the lives of others have inspired Dill to be an advocate.

"Several years ago, we watched a video in this room starring Elizabeth Banks playing a busy mom trying to get her family out the door while suffering a heart attack," Dill said. "And she chooses to take care of everyone else except herself in the middle of her own emergency."

Dill said she saw herself in that video, as well as many of her friends and family.

"We are busy moms, partners, daughters, sisters, business owners, friends," Dill said. "We put everyone else first and drive ourselves to the verge of exhaustion. But today is about putting ourselves and our health first so that we can be there in the future to continue to support those we love."

Dill's words hit home for ChaiVay Martin, who works at Busey Bank. She said her father-in-law died last year after a heart attack. It was a sobering moment for Martin, who is now committed to living a more balanced life and taking care of her body.

"I run the household, have a full-time job and keep track of everything," Martin said. "So I worry about my health on a daily basis. What would happen to my children if something happened to me? It's made me think about what I need to do to keep myself healthy and keep them healthy."

Karen Blatzer, director of marketing for Clark-Lindsey Village, Urbana, and a committee member for the event, said going to such events always startles her — but in a good way.

"I want to leave here being more committed to making sure I exercise regularly during the week," she said. "It's very uplifting to victim with friends and make these connections with women in our community. And at the same time, it's about delivering a serious message: So many of us are always taking care of other people, and we don't pay attention to what we're doing every day."

But for dozens of women at the luncheon, it was also a chance to connect with Garth, who — in her role as Kelly on "Beverly Hills 90210" — was for 10 years an object of obsession for Generation X'ers all over America.

Rumors of a reboot of the show have been swirling all over the Hollywood press, as Garth and longtime friend and co-star Tori Spelling work to make it a reality.

Garth said she's "very close to signing a deal with a network," and added that the reboot will be announced "any moment," with production starting "at some point this year."

When asked by an audience member if she had fond memories of the show, she said she has an idea for why she doesn't remember much.

"One time we were filming in the Pacific Ocean — it was during the Kelly and Dylan years — and I was riding on the back of a bodyguard's Jet Ski, and all of a sudden, there was a fisherman, and his line was in the way," Garth said. "The bodyguard went through it and ducked. I didn't. So I got clotheslined and fell off the back of the Jet Ski, and Luke was behind us on his Jet Ski, so he ran into me."

"I remember waking up, and the paramedic asked, 'Who's the president?', and Luke said, 'Don't ask her that; she doesn't know that normally,'" Garth said.