Nurse Brenda Warner Overcomes Adversity, Now Advocates for Heart Health

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By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

June 2, 2014 - A child requiring lifelong nursing care led Brenda Warner to the nursing profession, but now she draws on her knowledge to educate people about heart-healthy habits.

“Nursing sparked something in me to find out how our bodies work,” she said. “It’s a scary world with all of the choices out there.”

Warner joined the U.S. Marine Corps soon after graduating from high school in a small town in Iowa, and then served in Japan. Why the Marines? She knew her parents were struggling to pay for her sister’s college education, and her father had served in the Marines.

“It taught me honor, courage and integrity,” Warner said. “It was a challenge I wanted to be part of.”

Her son’s traumatic brain injury prompted an honorable discharge so Warner could care for him. Knowing he would need nursing care for the rest of his life, she went to nursing school.

“The body is so interesting,” Warner said. “I loved learning about it as a nurse.”

Warner’s fortitude and survival instinct never wavered as life became more challenging for her after a divorce, raising two children on her own, one with a head injury. She also buried her parents after a tornado struck their community.

“I’ve been on food stamps and [lived] in low-income housing,” Warner said. “I’ve had an interesting life at 46 years old.”

Warner credits her Marine Corps experience and God with helping her through the rough patches.

“[The Marines] taught me that ‘You are a survivor and have to fight,’” she said. “A lot of it was standing on what I knew was true, and I knew that God loved me and had a plan for me. I did what had to be done.”

Former nurse Brenda Warner and her husband quarterback Kurt Warner
Former nurse Brenda Warner now spreads the message about the importance of healthy eating and exercise. She and her husband, quarterback Kurt Warner, strive to serve as role models.

Brenda Warner met her future husband, NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, line dancing at a country bar while a nursing student. That night she told him she was divorced with two kids and never expected to see him again. He showed up the next day with a rose and wanted to meet the children. He fell in love with them and then her.

“I married an incredible man of character,” she said.

After nursing school, Warner worked as a registered nurse in long-term care for two years and then worked in an obstetrics-gynecology practice.

“I can still remember the residents in long-term care and miss it in many ways,” said Warner, adding that while practicing as a nurse she remembers the challenges of balancing work and family and time for self.

“Nurses are amazing people, because they are always giving. I hope they are taking time to take care of themselves,” Warner said.

Today, the Warners have seven children, ranging in age from 8 to 25 years. Kurt adopted Brenda’s two children from her first marriage.

A personal introduction to heart health 

While Kurt was still playing professional football, he learned he had high cholesterol. He first tried diet and exercise and then several medications, before starting on the statin Livalo, which has proven successful.

“When we were trying to figure out the best way to deal with his high cholesterol, we latched onto the heart health campaign and, hopefully, it will make a difference in other people’s lives,” she said. “Seventy-one million Americans live with high cholesterol. My husband and I are trying to get the word out to have a healthy life.”

Her marriage to a Super Bowl-winning quarterback opens opportunities for Warner to advocate for heart-healthy life choices on a national stage. Together, she and her husband serve as role models. The family eats healthy at home. When she prepares a sauce, for instance, she will throw in spinach to boost the nutritional value. She cooks turkey burger sliders and makes yogurt pops.

Warner likes to reintroduce vegetables to the children, letting them try different ones together as a group. They then discuss which ones they like best and why. She uses television commercial breaks as an opportunity to exercise and get everyone in the family’s heart rate up. More of her tips, including making a personalized plan, are available at the First and Goal website, FirstandGoalHeartHealth.com 

The Warners recently helped announce a “Big Game Sweepstakes” to promote their program’s goals. People visiting the website and completing the four downs of cholesterol management or sharing a heart-healthy recipe can enter a chance to win a trip to the 2015 Super Bowl in Arizona.

Warner draws on her knowledge and experience as a nurse to share the message about the importance of healthy eating and caring for one’s body. She has appeared on Rachel Ray’s cooking show and shared her recipes.

The Warners also have established the First Things First Foundation to help others.

“This foundation gives me a chance to walk into people’s lives who are going through things and inspire them, hear their story and give them a little hope,” Warner said.

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