February is Heart Month, and I’m thrilled to celebrate it by having this website, Heart Sisters, featured in the February issue of More magazine (“Canada’s Magazine Celebrating Women Over 40″). It’s included in a Body+Mind piece called Health Bloggers You’ll Love – highlighting four Canadian women who have launched health-related blogs “not only to better themselves, but also to inspire others along the way”. Writer Sydney Loney interviewed me a few months ago for this profile – it’s great to see the magazine finally in the newsstand! Here’s what she had to say:
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“Carolyn Thomas wasn’t interested in blogging. Then, at age 58, she had a heart attack while taking an early morning walk. Overwhelmed by nausea and a crushing pain in her chest that extended down her left arm, Thomas leaned against a tree and thought, ‘This better not be a heart attack because I do not have time for this!’ She went to the E.R., and was both relieved and mortified to receive a diagnosis of acid reflux. “I was so embarrassed to have wasted their time,” she says.
But the symptoms persisted. On a family visit to Ottawa, she had two more attacks in the airport, followed by two on the plane. “I white-knuckled it and thought, ‘If I can just make it home, I’ll be okay.” Two weeks after her acid reflux misdiagnosis, Thomas was finally hospitalized with a myocardial infarction (heart attack). While recovering, she combed the Internet for information on women and heart disease. “I was very curious about what the heck had just happened to me,” she says.
Thomas discovered an online announcement about the upcoming WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota; she applied, and in October 2008 became the first Canadian ever invited to attend this unique training event for female heart attack survivors – what she describes as “part world-class cardiology training, and part community activism bootcamp”.
Thomas decided to share what she’d learned at Mayo by holding what she called a Pinot and Prevention party, and was thrilled when 25 women showed up to a friend’s living room to hear her talk about women and heart disease. As her heart health allows, she still occasionally volunteers to do these public presentations about women and heart disease, their cardiac risk factors and how to address them, plus women’s unique heart attack symptoms.
To let people know about these heart health talks, she launched “a tiny, bloggy thing” called Heart Sisters on April 25, 2009, which has evolved from three static pages into a full-fledged site with over
140,000260,000 readers – and counting.
“If you had told me this would happen when I started Heart Sisters, I’d have thought it was impossible,” she now says. “I look at my blog as ‘cardiac rehab for my brain!’ The gravy is when people respond – when you get such a great response, it motivates you to do more.”
Heart Sisters is not an “I-woke-up-this-morning-and-made-coffee” type of blog, claims Thomas. While her posts are personal, they feature news on emerging cardiac research and under-reported information about women and heart disease. “I don’t want women going about their lives with serious cardiac symptoms and dismissing them the way I did,” she explains.
Some of her most loyal visitors are fellow heart attack survivors. “For women with heart disease, it’s common to feel alone.” They feel a kinship to Thomas because “I’ve walked in their shoes.”
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