Shannon Martinez and Sandahl Taylor

Courtesy of Monica Godfrey Photography

Shannon Martinez, left, and Sandahl Taylor both have been diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse.

Sports fans recognize MVP as standing for Most Valuable Player.

The acronym takes on the opposite type of connotation, though, for those with the heart condition mitral valve prolapse.

“It’s basically a leaky valve, and it flutters all the time for no reason, no rhyme, whenever it wants, whenever it feels like it,” Carnegie resident Sandahl Taylor explained, from the perspective of personal experience.

Dressed to the nines with a tiara balanced on her head and a sash proclaiming her as Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2018, Taylor might look like one of the last people you’d expect to have heart problems.

That’s exactly her point, and that’s the message she wants to convey with her Mrs. Pennsylvania platform: Heart Health at Any Age.

The Dormont native was in her late 20s when she learned she has MVP. Cecil Township resident Shannon Martinez was about a decade younger when she received her diagnosis.

“I was a cheerleader in Elkins, W.Va.,” she recalled, “and I passed out during a game. I had no idea what the problem was. I felt healthy up until that point.”

She shares Taylor’s interest in promoting heart health and the awareness of warning signs, and they collaborated on a fundraiser to kick off February as Women’s Heart Month: the inaugural Simply Red Fashion Show, which brought in $3,125.

Helping organize the event with Martinez, a small-business owner who serves as executive director of the women’s networking group WIN Pittsburgh, was local model Soigné Legacy. Again, you wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but she also has mitral valve prolapse.

Soigné Legacy

Courtesy of Monica Godfrey Photography

Soigné Legacy models a design during the Simply Red Fashion Show.

Their goal was to promote the creations of Pittsburgh fashion designers while benefiting a good cause.

“Of course, the American Heart Association was our first choice,” Martinez said.

Taylor served as keynote speaker for the event, held Feb. 2 at Gaetano’s Banquet Center of Banksville Road, discussing the day she found out about her MVP.

“I was at work and checking a client in to be serviced,” she said. “My heart started racing, and, at the time, I actually thought I was having a heart attack.”

She worked the remainder of her shift before going to the emergency room. And that, she wants to emphasize, was far from the best course of action.

“I waited only because it went away, and I wish I would have left and gotten it checked out,” she admitted. “So I am pushing that message: Don’t be like me. Go get it checked right away, because I got lucky, and that might not always be the case.”

Taylor also is encouraging people to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and she’s in the process of organizing what she hopes will be the world’s largest CPR class, targeted for 2020.

Dr. & Mrs. Pandit

Courtesy of Monica Godfrey Photography

Sunita Pandit, "Mrs. Cardiology," and her husband, Dr. Santosh Pandit, were major sponsors of the Simply Red Fashion Show. She has a website and podcast offering "advice from fireside chats with her cardiologist husband."

“It’s one more thing for Pittsburgh to have,” she said. “We’re the city of champions. We want all these great accolades, so I’m hoping it will trigger that kind of enthusiasm for this. We’ll have this amazing thing about us that no one else will have.”

A mother of two who is married to U.S. Army veteran Kenneth Taylor, she explained that she started competing in pageants primarily as a way spread her message to a larger audience.

“It really is very humbling to see how much more people pay attention to you when you have a crown and a sash on. I call it the ‘power of the sash.’ It really does open so many more doors for you,” she said. “And for me, that’s what this whole journey was all about. It was really never about winning. It was always about what came with it.”

What came with the success of the first Simply Red Fashion Show are plans for a second. And along with working on promoting her product line, Love Lust by Sami, Martinez is working on Simply Red 2020.

“I started yesterday,” she said, just two days after the event. “I called a couple of big banquet halls in the area and I’m getting some quotes, and I’m putting my committee together. So we’re going to be working on this for a year.”

And she has a fundraising goal: “Next year, double it. Why not?”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!