As the owner of Pure Barre Fitness Studio in Franklin, Martha Nemer appears to be the picture of good health. The artist and former owner of The Cotton Mill in Green Hills traded in 25 years of retail for an active lifestyle that includes daily exercise and a plant-based diet. But the sudden onset of chest tightness led her to see a doctor, where she discovered she’d experienced a non-lifestyle-related heart attack.
Martha is now an outspoken advocate for educating women about SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection). The condition is responsible for roughly one-third of heart attacks in women under 50 and is the leading cause of pregnancy-associated heart attacks. Given the emphasis on heart health during the month of February, we caught up with Martha to learn more about her personal experience with SCAD, her advice on business ownership, her favorite Nashville haunts, and more. Please welcome this week’s FACE of Nashville, Martha Nemer.
Where did you grow up?
I’m just a small-town girl. I grew up in Cookeville, TN, where I walked to school, and I could ride my bike most anywhere I pleased as long as I was home for dinner by 6 p.m. Life was good!
You’ve been quite open about your personal experiences with heart health. Can you share your story?
I was a healthy 70-year-old with a very active lifestyle — a daily exerciser with low blood pressure and cholesterol. I didn’t take any medications and was getting ready to celebrate three years of a whole-food, plant-based diet. I thought I was in perfect health.
I started experiencing chest tightness that radiated into my back and arms, but ONLY while exercising — no shortness of breath. Just tightness. And as soon as my workout was over, I was back to normal and full of energy, so I let it go on for several weeks. I’m not proud of that, but I attributed it to holiday stress.
Then, while hiking with a friend, I started experiencing the symptoms again. I slowed down and shared my secret with my friend. I’m so thankful I did! She convinced me to see my doctor, which likely saved my life. My blood tests revealed that heart damage had occurred — I’d had a heart attack, and I didn’t even know it.
What do you wish most women knew about heart health that they often don’t?
SCAD is an emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart. It can slow or block blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack, heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), or sudden death. Experts aren’t sure what causes the condition. It may be hereditary or due to excessive exercise or stress. But the fact that it happens most often to healthy, fit females is the most frightening part. We think we’re invincible, so we’re less likely to get checked out in a timely manner.
You can be totally healthy and still have a heart attack! And 90% of people suffering from SCAD are female. So, if you feel something, DO something!
Your entrepreneurship has run from your longstanding shop, The Cotton Mill in Green Hills, to Pure Barre Fitness in Franklin. What advice do you have for those looking to open their own business?
Be passionate about your adventure. Always keep your head in the game and have a smart business plan!
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I look forward to mornings in my studio, and I do some health coaching along the way for those who need my assistance. I take long walks with friends and enjoy lots of family time.
You’re a self-taught, working artist. Where are your favorite places to find inspiration in Nashville?
Nashville has so many beautiful and inspirational places right at our fingertips, such as Percy Warner Park, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, the Nashville Zoo, and Centennial Park. There are so many places where people-watching (one of my favorite pastimes) for art inspiration can be found.
I love painting abstract figures, family gatherings, special times, and beautiful flowers, too. Every day is different, and quite often, I wake up early with an inspiration already in my head and ready to go.
You’re also a certified health and wellness coach. What do you do for self-care?
As a certified health and wellness coach, helping my clients age well and live their best life also helps me. It keeps me focused on my needs. I have always led a very active lifestyle; exercise has always been extremely important to me.
In February 2020, I decided to change my diet to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle, which means no meat, dairy, or processed foods. The results have been very rewarding — clearer skin, better sleep, and it very possibly saved my life when my SCAD attack occurred. I am also a firm believer in a positive attitude, lots of laughter, and keeping negativity at arm’s length!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
When you give, give 100% and never stop learning.
Outside of faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My morning coffee, quiet moments in my art studio, and my favorite pillow when turning in at night.
And now, our lightning round!
Where was your last best meal? Park Cafe.
Where is your favorite vacation spot? Summers in Aspen, CO.
What is your favorite book? Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
What do you miss most about owning The Cotton Mill? I truly miss the people — the friends and the customers who quickly became friends. I miss vendor relationships and exciting buying trips.
February 19 through 25 marks SCAD Heart Attack Awareness Week. To learn more, visit scadresearch.org.
All photography provided unless otherwise noted.
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