My guest column in Stanford School of Medicine’s ‘Scope’

15 Apr

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

John Novack is the Director of Communications at Inspire – the organization that hosts WomenHeart’s online support community of almost 18,000 members living with heart disease. Three years ago, John approached Michelle Brandt. She’s the Director of Digital and Broadcast Media at Stanford University School of Medicine, and also the editor of the school’s medical blog called Scope. John’s suggestion to Michelle: let him help her work what he called “the voices of actual, unvarnished patients” into her publication – normally devoted to coverage of scientific and medical developments around the world. Michelle said yes.

And that’s how Scope’s monthly patient-focused series of unique personal stories was launched. Since I qualified as a contributor (an actual, unvarnished patient myself), John invited me to submit something for consideration – “I’d love a draft column by the end of March!” is how he put it. Continue reading

Living with heart disease – and your whole family

12 Apr

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

For more than 30 years, Dr. Wayne Sotile was the director of psychological services for Wake Forest University’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program. Which is to say that he’s spent a lot of time talking and listening to heart patients and their families. In 2008, while recuperating from my own heart attack, I discovered his must-read book called Thriving With Heart Disease.*  That title, by the way, has always bugged my Alaskan friend Dr. Stephen Parker (a cardiac psychologist and himself a heart attack survivor) who once made this comment about the book’s title:

“Just as soon as I can gather myself together, I am planning on writing a book called ‘Thriving After I Lost All My Body Parts’…”

Despite that small quibble about the title, Dr. Sotile is a terrific writer who really nails it when it comes to guiding those who are freshly-diagnosed with a chronic and progressive condition like heart disease.  Another of his many books expands that guidance.  It recognizes that it’s often the patient’s entire family who need help coping with the stresses and changes brought on by a cardiac diagnosis. Such help, he claims, can actually be the key to recovering.   Continue reading

The surprising reasons heart patients don’t go to cardiac rehab

5 Apr

by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters

Cardiologist Dr. Sharonne Hayes, founder of the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has this important advice for all heart patients:

 “If your doctor recommends cardiac rehabilitation, go. 

“If you’re not referred, ask.”

. . . and then she adds this gem on Twitter (@SharonneHayes)

Based on what we already know about the shockingly low rates of physician referral to this life-saving treatment, we might expect a flurry of doctor dumping if heart patients follow Dr. Sharonne’s advice to seek out physicians who are more appropriately informed.   Continue reading

Are you a heart attack waiting to happen?

29 Mar

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

I was asked last year by a large U.S. publisher to review a new book written by a woman who had recently become a heart patient. I enjoyed reading the first chapter or two until I came to the New York author’s dramatic story of the actual cardiac event itself. The part that left me gobsmacked was not the event, but her abject shock and disbelief that she (of all people!) could be experiencing a heart attack at all.  The pervasive “Why me? Why me?” focus in this chapter clearly ignored a reality that the author had somehow chosen to gloss over: she’d been a heavy smoker for several decades.

Don’t get me wrong. Any cardiac event is indeed a traumatic occurrence no matter who and when it strikes. Sometimes, we truly have no hint about the cause of said event. And my immediate gut reaction was not meant to mock this author, or minimize her experience (which was awful). 

But I felt honestly surprised that she was surprised. Here was an intelligent, educated woman who’d been actively and relentlessly engaged year after year after year in one of the most well-known and downright dangerous risk factors for cardiovascular disease out there yet she’s surprised?

Cigarette smoking is considered the most important preventable cause of premature death in North America. So how is it even possible she would not know this? How is it possible that she would have no clue that her heavy smoking was damaging her heart? Continue reading

When you have a family history of heart disease

22 Mar

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

A young 30-something in one of my women’s heart health presentation audiences asked an intriguing question while we were discussing cardiac risk factors.  She was especially  worried about her own personal risk for developing heart disease one day because of her family history.  Her mother had died several years earlier from a heart attack while only in her 40s.  But then this young woman added a few additional facts about her Mum.  For example, her mother had also:

  • weighed over 300 pounds
  • rarely if ever engaged in physical exercise
  • lived with poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes
  • been a heavy smoker for over two decades

This young woman, however, shared none of those risk factors.  So what do you think? Should she be concerned about this family history of heart disease after all?    Continue reading

Yet another cardiac risk calculator? My response in the British Medical Journal

17 Mar

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

I was contacted by Juliet Dobson at the British Medical Journal recently, who asked me for a heart patient’s perspective on a new cardiovascular risk calculator.  It’s been launched by the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), and claims that it can tell you your real heart age. Here’s what I wrote . . .   Continue reading

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