Illustration by Gina Triplett
Heart disease kills more people than all forms of cancer combined. Thankfully, over the last decade, public knowledge about heart disease has increased dramatically. It is imperative for women to be well-informed on this subject since they are most often the decision-makers regarding health care and have the greatest impact on relatives and friends—both male and female. I’ve noticed that busy, on-the-go women often focus on others rather than themselves, so knowledge about the symptoms, which can sometimes be subtle, is important.
What some people don’t realize is that some of the most common forms of heart disease are in part preventable. With coronary artery disease, blockages develop in the blood vessels that bring blood to the heart, and this leads to heart attack. There are five risk factors for development of these blockages: family history of coronary disease, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. We may not be able to change our family history, but we can change our lifestyle. Every woman [should] have a discussion with her primary care physician about these risk factors and strategies for modifying them to reduce the chance of developing heart disease. This advice is good for the men we care about, too!
Some people ask me if it’s difficult to be a woman in this specialty—cardiothoracic surgeons make up about 2 percent of surgical subspecialists, and women make up just over 2 percent of that group. I have been fortunate that, for the most part, my gender has not been an issue. Some patients have even told me they prefer a woman surgeon—some say we must be good to have made it in a male-dominated specialty, others like that I have small hands!
I’m looking forward to serving as medical director of cardiothoracic surgery when Mercy Health West Hospital opens in October. I’ll be seeing patients, consulting on cardiac and thoracic issues, performing surgeries, and overseeing both the cardiac OR team and the cardiac surgery recovery unit. Mercy Health broke ground on this facility in October 2010, and I’m excited to see it come to life—in addition to having 250 beds and all private rooms, the hospital will include heart care with open heart surgery, a cancer care center, an orthopedics center, a women’s health center, and maternity care. The west side has patients who deserve excellence in cardiac care but currently need to travel to other parts of town for surgical treatment. I can’t wait to offer them the medical services they deserve right in their neighborhood.
Originally published in the January 2013 issue.