American Heart Month
Having been born on Valentine’s Day, February is a month that is near and dear to my heart! Every year, the swirl of excitement around this day for me and all those that I love takes on special meaning. Cards, presents, dinner, and special treats are showered on the birthday girl, and distributed to all those I love too! (Heart-healthy dark chocolate always is welcome!)
This February phenomenon transcends my personal life and has filtered into my professional life as well. When I think back to my years in healthcare, much of my early career was spent in the cardiovascular field. I have many fond memories of the fun and creative activities we planned and executed each year in February to focus on heart care. We typically would have a month-long plan for a variety of hospital-based and community activities, which were aimed at educating constituents on heart disease, stroke, and the differences in clinical presentation between men and women. February is now considered American Heart Month, and there are plenty of ways to get involved.
Beginning in 2004, my heart team participated in the first formal National Wear Red Day, sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA). Stemming from this first event, we eagerly anticipated the first Friday in February each subsequent year. On this day, our hospital staff and physicians were encouraged to join our heart team in wearing red to show their support of women’s heart health. One year, we formed a giant red heart composed of team members wearing red for an aerial group picture in the parking lot. (It was cold, but we got a great picture of the group!)
Another year, the “wear red challenge” pitted hospital departments against each other to post the most creative picture of their staff wearing their finest red garb. Voting was always VERY competitive, with the winning department scoring Valentine treats for participants! Our lead Cardiac Surgeon always showed up wearing his signature bow tie, (which was red, OF COURSE!), to pose with the CVICU and CVOR staff.
Nowadays for Heart Month, I dig out my cherished red dress pin, adorned with Swarovski crystals, which was gifted to me and other Corazon team members by Corazon’s founder. As you can see, February’s Heart Month has given me many fond memories to look back upon, and an equal amount of great traditions to look forward to in the future.
Getting Serious About Heart Disease
To keep to a clinical perspective and acknowledge the serious nature of heart disease in women, a few statistics are in order. Heart disease remains the number one killer of women. Imagine yourself in a line of women—now look right, then left—one of 3 women will die of heart disease. When you take on this personal perspective—it is a bit shocking! Women are typically more focused on a potential cancer diagnosis than assessing their heart health. We have much work to do to prevent, detect, and treat heart disease across all demographic segments, BUT given the statistics, a focus on women is in order.
This past year, I had the opportunity to lead a project with an organization that was developing a strategic plan for its Women’s Heart and Vascular Program. They had a remarkable team composed of ten female cardiologists and one female vascular surgeon that was at the heart of the program (Excuse the pun please!). The core leaders of this women’s heart initiative had a 10-year history of developing programs for women’s heart disease. They continually worked to attract and grow female physician colleagues to join them in providing specialized cardiovascular services in their community. During their tenure, this team developed projects based around: Sub-specialty Women’s Heart programming for Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), cardio-pregnancy, and cardio-oncology. The team’s additional efforts to build upon these initiatives as a regional service and to support their goal of achieving a national reputation for their Women’s Heart and Vascular Program is a testimony to their passion, dedication, and hard work.
I will end this blog offering by challenging all CV leaders to assess their focus on women and cardiovascular disease—not just in February, but all year long.
This February, wear red! Eat a heart healthy diet! Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol! If you are a female health care provider or leader, focus on your health. Join your male counterparts to assess the programs that are provided in your community. Engage resources to focus on women and the prevention and treatment of heart disease and stroke. WE ALL CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Author: Susan Heck