Friday, March 19, 2010
Hello Mrs. Trader,
My name is Jessica Sawhill and I am a junior at
St. Louis, Missouri. I am writing a research paper about heart disease in women and came across your name in an interview published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. When I read your interview with Womenshealth.gov, I found it extremely informative and wanted to seek other information from you. I would he extremely honored if you would answer a few questions on behalf of myself, my research, and young women at the Catholic school that I attend. If you have time to answer some of these questions, I would be greatly appreciative.
You mentioned in your interview that you had no idea your risk for heart disease. How did your symptoms present themselves, and how was this shocking to you?
My dad’s had his first massive coronary when he was 37 years of age. I was 5 years old. At that time, the doctors asked my mom about her children. I had three brothers. He told her to make sure that the boys were checked throughout their lifetime because heart disease is hereditary Being a girl they thought I was safe (1960’s). My entire life heart disease was never put into any equation while visiting a doctor.
My symptoms at age 47 were fatigue, though I did not recognize it as such. A entire month or more before my heart attack, I kept working full time and going strong, but certain events would drain me so much, I’d have to excuse myself. Then 2 days before being admitted to the hospital I had radiating pain in the middle of my back. I also had tingling in my right hand, not left hand and arm. Atypical for men, typical for women.
When the doctor told you that you had heart disease and a 75% blockage of an artery, what was your initial reaction? Had that even crossed your mind that it could have been heart disease?
Monday afternoon, probably another five “you’re young and a woman” comments later, the cardiac nurse assigned to me said I’d be staying another night. My stress test showed some “finding”. Tuesday morning, the cardiologist stopped by for a brief moment and stated, yet again, that women have abnormal EKG’s and didn’t think the finding amounted to much. Wednesday he would schedule an angiogram. The angiogram is 100% accurate where the stress test is only 85%. He couldn’t do it Tuesday because he was scheduled with other patients. Yeah, another day in the hospital feeling awkward and knowing my chest pain was only relieved with nitroglycerin patches which I had worn since Friday. To make my stay more pleasant, I received injections in the stomach with some lovely type of blood thinner that burned. Being hooked up to a heart monitor and having an IV drip wasn’t that bad. The best part was having my fluids measured, so every time I wanted to make the trip to the bathroom, I’d have to ask my roomy if she had left her potty in there. Did I mention my roomy was pushing 70 and didn’t have a lot of sympathy or warm feelings for me? Funny, she went home in perfect health and I went to ICU. Actually, it wasn’t funny. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity of Dr. Phil (not that I don’t love Dr. Phil) and reality TV, Wednesday arrived. Time for the angiogram. I knew a tube would be inserted into my groin and jimmied all the way through to my heart. We would all see on the monitors what was really happening inside this “young woman’s” heart. Except this “young woman” was shaking so intensely that they administered more sedation and I missed the monitor debut. What I do remember most was being whisked through hallways I hadn’t seen before and taken to a very private room where two nurses attached me up to every machine known to mankind. By golly, I’d made it to ICU and became a very important “young woman”. The assistants who rushed me to ICU provided more information regarding my condition than anyone previously. They told me my left artery was blocked and I wouldn’t remember much of what they were explaining. Flatter on a bed than my poor back had ever experienced even in yoga class, right leg tied down and a plug in my groin, it seemed time to be a bit concerned. To make matters worse, ICU doesn’t allow calls. Talking to my parents in
Oregon wasn’t going to be easy. A lot of literature on Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) made its way to my room and my family. I had been diagnosed with CAD. The “normal” angiogram procedure would be a catheter, which is a long, thin, soft tube inserted through an artery into the heart, allowing the doctors to immediately know if there is a blockage. If there is blockage, open heart surgery is done or a stent is immediately inserted into the blocked artery or arteries, the catheter is then removed and the incision closed. In my case they discovered my left descending artery, referred to as the “widow maker” was 75% blocked. But, being “young and a woman” there wasn’t a stent for my size artery ready to go. Therefore, they had to leave the artery in my groin open until the next day, highly dangerous. The following morning, a new drug eluting coronary stent was positioned into my blocked artery. Then a special stitch and a plug made of collagen were placed in the incision. If you are a young woman and by the way all this took place at barely 47 years of age, making me a wee bit into middle age, but for continuity’s sake, I
‘ll stick with young, pay attention to your own body. This bout with doctors has shown me once again that you need to pay attention to your own body. Only you know if you are experiencing something unique to your normal health patterns. I am not thrilled to have been diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease and prescribed more medicine on a daily basis than my seven closest friends. One more thing, heart disease is for the rest of my life. I’m grateful my left artery has been opened up with a stent, but it’s up to me to make life style changes, exercise, and eat a low fat, low cholesterol, low salt diet. I hate that part. None the less, I will need to eat healthy and exercise. Genetics play a negative role in my make-up, but that’s no excuse not to do my part.
Do you feel as though there is a difference between the way men are treated and aware about heart disease as opposed to women?
For the past 20 + years more women than men have died from heart disease. It is getting better since 2003, but women need to take their health into their own hands and be their own advocates.
What are your opinions on advertisement for preventative awareness of heart disease?
Okay, not fantastic. Read public article below from (NHLBI):
For Immediate Release
February 2, 2010 – 3:00 PM
Even With Heart Disease Awareness on the Rise, Prevention Remains Critically Important for American Women.
The Heart Truth campaign urges women to take action
In recognition of American Heart Month, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and its heart disease awareness campaign—The Heart Truth— is reminding all American women that heart disease prevention remains critically important, despite that fact that awareness is at an all time high. More women than ever know that heart disease is their leading killer, yet millions of women are at risk, at increasingly younger ages.
Even with increased awareness, 80 percent of midlife women (ages 40 to 60) still have one or more of the modifiable risk factors—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, and smoking. Sixty percent of younger women, ages 20-39, have one or more of these risk factors. Recent data show high rates of overweight/obesity in younger women, which may lead to higher rates of heart disease in later years.
“Women are developing heart disease at younger ages, and our research shows that many women, particularly at younger ages, still do not recognize their personal risk,” says Susan Shurin, M.D., acting director, NHLBI. “What young women need to realize is that leading a healthy lifestyle in their 20s and 30s sets them up for a long and healthy life.”
Although overall heart disease deaths in women have gone down, the death rate in young women increases threefold between the third and fourth decade of life. This suggests that the late 20s and early 30s is a critical time for women to take action to reduce their risk, according to Dr. Shurin.
Activities such as National Wear Red Day on Friday, Feb. 5 and The Heart Truth’s signature Red Dress Collection 2010 fashion event on Thursday, Feb. 11 encourage Americans to raise awareness of heart disease in women. The Red Dress is the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness, and helps remind women to recognize and take action to reduce their risks for heart disease.
Statistics show that heart disease risk factors are subject to a multiplier effect. This means that having even one risk factor, such as high blood pressure, can double a woman’s chance of developing heart disease. Two risk factors, such as overweight and high blood pressure, increase risk fourfold, and having three or more risk factors increases risk tenfold.
Women can prevent heart disease by reducing their risk, and following a heart-healthy lifestyle. An annual physical can provide a risk factor numbers check—blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, and, if appropriate, blood glucose — and the opportunity to start a discussion about physical activity levels and smoking to develop a personal plan to reduce their risk. Such a plan would incorporate heart healthy eating, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking. Regardless of a woman’s age, NHLBI research shows that it’s never too early or too late to take action.
As another way to raise awareness and encourage heart healthy living among women, The Heart Truth’s Red Dress Collection 2010 will go behind the seams on the opening night of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week to remind women it’s what’s inside that counts. A healthy heart means a longer, healthier life. More than 20 of today’s hottest celebrities will walk the runway in red dresses created by America’s top designers to encourage women to protect their heart health and inspire them to take action.
“Women have tremendous power to reduce their risk of heart disease, and I am delighted that our sponsors and the fashion and entertainment industries will again join with The Heart Truth to bring this urgent heart health message to millions of women and encourage them to take action to protect their hearts,” said Dr. Shurin.
The Heart Truth’s Red Dress Collection 2010 is presented by Diet Coke. “Diet Coke is pleased to be partnering with The Heart Truth for the third year to help spread the message about heart health and living positively,” said Caren Pasquale Seckler, AVP, Coke Trademark Brands. “Healthy lifestyles continue to be a priority for Diet Coke consumers and for our brand. Through our powerful network, we have tremendous opportunities to remind everyone, but especially younger women, to stay extraordinary by staying active and living a well-balanced, heart healthy life.” National sponsors include Swarovski, and Tylenol® and St. Joseph® Aspirin; make-up partner is Bobbi Brown Cosmetics.
Do you feel as though enough advertisement and awareness campaigns are in the media and women’s daily lives?
Maybe in the media, but we need a face to women’s heart disease – and not just the celebrities talking about their own desire to prevent it. I think heart disease is getting a good share of media coverage, but not sure it’s being accepted. Statically women’s awareness has improved, but not drastically since the Go Red for Women campaign.
What are your thoughts on Go Red for Women, Diet Coke’s heart healthy awareness campaign, the “red dress” symbol?
Diet Coke with the heart on it seems a bit odd to me. It doesn’t take a scientist to know that advertising Diet Coke as healthy makes any sense. You retain water by drinking carbonation and it’s full of things our bodies don’t need. Water is the way to go. Advertise wine, but soda? That’s a crazy one to me. The Go Red for Women is great… but what the heck – the number one killer of women doesn’t have a ribbon, but a red dress? Still when I wear my red dress pin 99% of women don’t know what it is.
What would you have done differently?
Have me speak more to women J Put a real face to women’s heart disease.
Tell me, how do you feel now that you are educating women about heart disease?
Except the love I feel towards my family, and my grandchildren, I don’t believe anything is as fulfilling as sharing with women about how they can control or prevent heart disease. It was so amazing sharing and helping others… so amazing that it was hard for me to turn down a speaking engagement. I had to learn boundaries on that as well.
Do you feel as though you have touched or potentially saved lives?
Yes, I feel it. But, I’m not satisfied. My dream, passion has not come to fruition yet. I’m working fulltime now and that bugs me, but its reality. I can’t wait until I can dedicate more time to my passion. That is why I write so much, it’s an avenue I can do without leaving my job. Honestly I don’t get to know the people whose lives have been touched. I believe that when you touch one you touch a million, so I’m praying I am touching millions.
What will you continue to do to improve the overall health of yourself, and of women around you that you have educated?
I was 47 years old when I had my first heart attack. They were able to fix my LAD with a stent. In turn, I believe God allowed me to go through this challenge and walk in my dad’s footsteps to help others. It is a daily struggle, getting older doesn’t help much! But, I’m determined to be as proactive as possible with myself and family first and then others. The prior 6 years I had that a bit upside down, and spent too much energy on others, neglecting my own heart health. My diet is made up of whole grains, brown rice, lots of healthy beans. hummus, olive oil, vegetables and I eat an apple day. Meat is a total treat, and chicken and fish are probably eaten once a week. I love soy cheese and melted on a whole wheat tortilla is a fun meal. Allows me to feel I’m eating something fun. I do fitness kickboxing 3-5 times a week and when I don’t do that I try and clean the house or do some major, walking, hiking, playing with my grandkids. I stay active… it’s being physically inactive that is the problem. Sitting all day at work, sitting at your computer at home, watching TV – you must move around constantly.
What advice could you lend to a population of young girls who will eventually become the ones who are at a high risk of getting the number one killer of women?
Heart Disease doesn’t care what we wear or how old we are. It is not selective.
More fatal than any other disease.
• Heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women, killing more than a third of them. 
• 35.3% of deaths in American women over the age of 20, or more than 432,000, are caused by cardiovascular disease each year. 
• More than 200,000 women die each year from heart attacks- five times as many women as breast cancer. 
• More than 159,000 women die each year of congestive heart failure, accounting for 56.3% of all heart failure deaths. 
o An estimated 42 million American women live with cardiovascular disease, but too many are unaware of the threat they face.
#1 Don’t start smoking. If you smoke stop. Lung cancer or heart disease is not the way to go. Plus it causes wrinkles around your lips and Botox doesn’t help that area. You can always tell a woman’s skin who is a smoker.
#2 What you eat now can lead to heart disease years from now. It takes awhile for plaque to build up in your arteries. I was always skinny, but unhealthy skinny.
#3 Get out of an unhealthy relationship. Even if it is a marriage, a great job, a longtime friend. Stress is horrible for you and if you can do anything to avoid daily unnecessary stressful events do it. We can’t fix the world, or our traffic, but we can get up a little earlier so we are not rushing to school or work. We can set boundaries with our friends and family. We can choose to live life healthier.
Oh and subscribe to my articles by pressing ‘subscribe’ on the above link – keeps a girl young :)
Lloyd-Jones D, Adams R, Brown T,. et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2010 Update: A Report from the American Heart Assocaition Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Circulation. 2010; 121:e1-e170. Johnson SM, Karvonen CA, Phelps CL, Set al. Assessment of Analysis by Gender in the Cochrane Reviews as Related to Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. J Women’s Health. June 1, 2003, 12(5):449-457.