March 8, 2007, Vol. V Issue 5
I got a little reprieve from the office last week. I took a very pleasant train ride up to Tacoma, Washington, for the first of Franciscan Health System’s three-part Healthy Lifestyle Series 2007. The Feb. 27th program featured Nieca Goldberg, MD, cardiologist, nationally recognized pioneer in women’s heart health and author of Women Are Not Small Men. Her New York City practice Total Heart Care focuses primarily on caring for women. It was great to hear a doctor speak to us woman to woman, in understandable terms. It was evident from her anecdotes that she works closely with her patients to get to the bottom of their health issues.
At another heart health related event, Rudy Wilson Galdonik was the keynote speaker for “Her Story: An Affair of the Heart,” in Middletown, Ohio, early in February. It was sponsored by the WHIIMS organization, a grass roots group dedicated to serving the women of their community that was literally started on a whim. This group sets a powerful example of women making a difference in their community.
Women Are Not Small Men
“She can’t be having a heart attack, she’s a woman,” the doctor said. Those are the words that struck Dr. Goldberg, as she worked with one of her very first patients whose symptoms did not conform to the male doctor’s norm.
Dr. Goldberg said she graduated from medical school in 1984, the same year that the death rates of men and women from heart disease crossed over — women’s death rates increased and men’s decreased. As a medical student, she was taught that all medical care was based on what was normal for a 165 lb. man. This formula didn’t make sense to the 5-foot-1, 100 lb. aspiring female cardiologist, who eventually challenged the status quo. Women were not small men, she reasoned, so why should the medical community assume that symptoms, risk factors, medication dosages, surgical treatments and rehab recommendations be the same for them as for men?
As a result of her research that began with that insight, today Dr. Goldberg is a passionate spokesperson on the subject of women and heart disease. She has written what is considered to be the “bible” of heart disease in women — Women Are Not Small Men. In April 2006, it was re-issued by Ballantine Books with over 25% new material as “The Women’s Healthy Heart Program.” Her book makes the point that women’s symptoms of heart disease may be very different from those of men and that if women are to save themselves from the disease that is the number one killer of women, they must understand this.
Dr. Goldberg’s talk for Franciscan Health System, was very much in alignment with the updated recommendations from The American Heart Association for preventing heart disease in women, released in mid-February. The focus now is on a woman’s lifetime risk for heart disease, not just her short-term risk, as was the case in the 2004 guidelines.
She emphasized the importance of getting started on a heart disease prevention program early, starting with screenings at age 20. The new guidelines warn that nearly all American women are in danger of heart disease or stroke and should be more aggressive about lowering their risk, including asking their doctors about daily aspirin use.
“Even if something is available over the counter, it doesn’t mean it’s something that is right for you,” she said. “Always consult with your doctor. If you are reading about a study, pay attention to who sponsored it and how many women were in it – 1,000 is better than 10.”
The new guidelines were published last month in a special issue of the journal, Circulation, devoted to women’s health. They aim to get women and doctors to focus on long-term risks from high blood pressure, smoking, lack of exercise or being overweight. Dr. Goldberg covered all of those issues as well as hormone replacement therapy, depression, stress and women’s heart attack symptoms.
“The most important thing in healthcare now is communication between doctor and patient. Make your appointments. Don’t apologize. State the facts,” Dr. Goldberg told the audience. It’s a message that can’t be stated too much. Women have a tendency to put everyone else first. They put off taking care of themselves and discount their symptoms.
As for the patient referred to in the beginning of this article, Dr. Goldberg was successful in ordering a stress test for her, as well as other cardiac tests that showed one of the major arteries supplying her heart muscle was nearly totally blocked. The woman who was 47 at time, not only recovered, but became a certified aerobics instructor. “That,” Dr. Goldberg said, “is life after heart disease.”
“Share the information you learned tonight with girlfriends who couldn’t be here tonight,” she urged the attendees. “So together we can break this frontier, so that in ten years, we no longer have to have this discussion of heart disease.”
Please refer to our website for more information to about bringing Dr. Goldberg’s expertise about women and heart disease to your event.
Out On A Whim
The moment I read Rudy’s profile on your website,” Vonnie Bittikofer told me, “I knew she was the right speaker for my heart health event.” Vonnie had awakened in the middle of the night in late December to take matters into her own hands.
“Our plans for a speaker for our Feb. 2 date had not come to fruition. At 4 o’clock in the morning – on a whim – I got up and went to my computer to see what I could find. The Speak Well Being Group’s website came up and Rudy Wilson Galdonik was the first one to pop up under heart health. I read her profile and thought immediately that she was exactly what I was looking for. I filled out the website form and Barbara called me back first thing in the morning. Rudy’s fee was within our budget and a hold on Rudy’s calendar cleared. Phew! It felt like a God moment.”
This isn’t unusual behavior for Vonnie. She’s accustomed to following her whims. That’s exactly how WHIIMS – Women’s Health Issues in Miami-Valley Sisterhood – came to be.
Vonnie is a mental health therapist in Middletown, Ohio, and in August 2005 she’d seen one too many people stressed out by chronic pain, depression and anxiety from medical bills they couldn’t pay, medications they couldn’t afford and other inequities of the healthcare system that put people already suffering in further jeopardy. “I just decided I had to do something, anything,” she told me. “The first thing that came to mind was to have a raffle to raise money for breast cancer patients in our area. I called up some friends I knew from other fund-raising experiences. Within days, the word was out. One of the oncologists in town got a call and she called the other one. Someone called the hospital and three people showed up from there. We had 12-15 women at our first meeting.
“It was magic from the beginning because there were no agendas, no politics, no one’s job was on the line. We could be completely free thinking. It was just a group of women coming together caring about an issue. After our first meeting we said, ‘Wow, that was unusually neat! We have something special here. After we do this, we need to stay together and work on women’s health issues.’ By the third meeting, we needed to have a name. It was formed on a whim, so we decided to call it WHIIMS, Women’s Health Issues In Middletown Sisterhood. It’s now expanded and changed to Miami-Valley.
They decided that WHIIMS would be a one-of-a-kind, unique, non-profit organization that provides emergency funds to save, prolong or enhance the lives of women in the community. Their mission is to provide emergency services, awareness, education and fundraising for women’s health issues.
On November 11, 2005, WHIIMS held their first official education and fundraising event focusing on breast cancer awareness. The event was a rousing success with informative speakers and 17 health and wellness booths. They raised over $25,000 to support their mission. Over 280 women attended the event and many of them were either undergoing breast cancer treatment or were survivors. “The response of those attending, both in words and actions, showed what a powerful impact this educational event had on the participants,” Vonnie said. “This year we decided to focus on heart health, as heart disease is the #1 killer of women. Once again, the event was a huge success. Rudy was the perfect speaker. She had the whole package – warm, funny and educational.” (You can learn more about Rudy Wilson Galdonik on our website).
“Originally, we were going to give our funds to a local foundation to manage, but they told us we’d lose control,” Vonnie told me. “We wanted to be able to help people in 24 hours. We wanted it to be unique and we wanted to keep it simple.” So they came up with their own voucher system. “We have an informed consent form. Doctors specify the need. The screening method is such that if the doctor says yes, they’re a patient, and yes, they have the need, they can be approved.” WHIIMS also received 501 (C) (3) non-profit status in six weeks, no questions asked, with a help of a volunteer member.
The board and WHIIMS committees consist of doctors, medical, financial and other skilled professionals who volunteer their time and support of the cause. The Distribution Committee can provide women with funds within several days. Funding goes toward the purchase of medicines, medical procedures, prosthetic devices, wigs, etc.
“The success of our events can be attributed to our generous sponsors, the hard work of the committee and willingness of area women to participate,” Vonnie said. “Hospital involvement has been critical. I can’t see a hospital initiating a program like this but the hospital is often the center of the community, and women of passion and influence are often involved in a hospital foundation. They are willing to get involved.”
Vonnie would love to see other communities adapt this model and she’s willing to talk with anyone who is interested. “If everyone would do something like this in their own community, it could be huge,” she said. “It’s a grass roots way to circumvent the system and get help to people who need it when they need it.” You can contact Vonnie at 513-423-6621.
Vonnie didn’t tell me this, but I knew from a photo on the website that she is 5-year breast cancer survivor. She said she feels fortunate, “I had family, insurance, and support. It bothers me that there are people who don’t have that.” And next? “My country club wanted to know how they could get involved. We have a golf outing scheduled for May 21.” Something tells me this community will support that and more. These women know how to go out on a whim and win big.
As if I needed an excuse to feed my flower habit – I buy cut flowers for myself weekly – I’m happy to report that I now have scientific verification that this is something that is good for me – and you, too. I was sitting in a waiting room the other day, when I ran across this tidbit in a magazine. A Harvard study showed that cut flowers can increase compassion and kindness and decrease anxiety and worry. People who lived with cut flowers one week reported feeling less worried and less depressed while at home than people who lived with a decorative candle. Hmmmm. I wonder if they lit the candle?
I got into this habit long ago when I realized that having flowers in the house truly brought me great joy. My now husband Jim, caught on to my flower passion fairly quickly when we were courting. He had a garden that was overflowing with flowers and he would literally show up on my doorstep with armloads and buckets of flowers, making his lady very joyful, indeed. Yes, those researchers were right about the flowers, but maybe they should have lit the candle, too. They’re a good combination . . .
Until next time, take care of yourself, for your good health and those you love.
Yours truly in good health,