Heart to Heart: Women reach out to women with a life-saving message
After a heart attack six years ago, Pam Bozarth felt hopeless and depressed. "At the time, I didn't know any women with heart disease," she says. "It was considered a man's disease." Her doctor suggested she attend Virtua's cardiac rehabilitation program, where she could begin her recovery in a supportive environment.
Under the supervision of registered nurses who closely monitor heart rate and rhythm during exercise, patients work to regain their health in a safe setting. They also support and encourage each other as they learn how to manage heart disease. "This program changed the quality of my life, gave me control of my health, and made me realize I wasn't going to die," says 59-year-old Bozarth.
However, most of the program's participants were men, and Bozarth wanted to know she wasn't the only woman with heart disease. Then a magazine article led her to WomenHeart, an advocacy organization based in Washington, DC, that promotes awareness and provides support for women with heart disease. A handful of women are selected each year to attend education sessions with the world's top cardiovascular specialists. In exchange, participants agree to go into their communities and provide heart disease information and support to others.
The number one killer of women
This is important because many women believe heart disease is a man's disease. "Most people don't know that heart disease is the number one killer of women," says Robert Singer, MD
, chief of cardiology at Virtua West Jersey Hospitals. "More women die of heart disease than all of the cancers combined." He believes raising awareness is critical.
With this in mind, Bozarth is helping teach other women about warning signs, treatment options and available support. "When you have heart disease, you can choose to give up, or you can take control, get healthy and enjoy every day," says Bozarth.
Diane Fredrickson, RN, program director of Virtua's Cardiac Performance Center, also is getting the word out. Fredrickson gives talks at local schools and teaches the men in her program to care for the women in their lives. She helped cardiac rehab patient Jane Cameron become a WomenHeart advocate as well.
The unique symptoms of heart disease in women
Cameron, who underwent open-heart surgery in October 2003 says: "I feel it's my duty to tell women to start paying attention to their health." In her talks, she emphasizes the risk factors for heart disease. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, smoking and diabetes. "But, most important is knowing the unique symptoms of heart disease in women," she says.
According to Dr. Singer, symptoms are much more subtle in women than men. "Women can experience a change in energy level, a feeling of unease, nausea, shortness of breath, and more discomfort in the shoulder, neck or jaw than in the chest," he notes.
"With word getting out, there are more women in Virtua's cardiac rehab program than ever before," says Fredrickson. She regularly calls on Bozarth and Cameron to encourage other patients, or to speak at Virtua's community outreach programs. "One woman showed up to a seminar really depressed," she says. "After the program, the woman said that hearing Pam Bozarth speak was the best thing that ever happened to her."
For more information on Virtua's Cardiac Rehabilitation Program
or to schedule an appointment with a Virtua cardiologist, call 1-888-Virtua-3