by Carolyn Thomas ♥ @HeartSisters
Since 1973 (when I was just a tiny baby), my work background has been in journalism, communications and public relations. I’m a refugee from the Niagara Falls area to the gorgeous west coast of Canada; I’m the author of a couple books; my little garden won a national garden contest from Gardening Life magazine; I once had lunch with His Royal Highness Prince Edward (yes, that Prince Edward); and many years ago while I was a student at Queen’s University, I accidentally smashed our old Buick into the station wagon owned by “The English Patient” author, Michael Ondaatje. And that’s just about as much fascinating trivia as the average person can possibly stand knowing about me.
I have two grown kidlets: Ben, who moved with his lovely bride Paula back here to his hometown after years of world travel adventures, and Larissa Jane, who lives two blocks away with hubby Randy in the house right next door to her childhood home, and who is expecting their first baby in May.
Back in 1997, I made what the Victoria Times Colonist called at the time a “riches to rags” career move when I decided to abandon the expense account world of corporate PR in order to do something socially meaningful for a change – and off I went to work with the Salvation Army. I ran their mobile disaster response unit, as well as a street outreach program feeding the homeless. Then in 2000, I was thrilled to be offered the position of Communications Coordinator at the Victoria Hospice Society.
I was just your average active, outgoing PR person, a longtime Run Leader at the Y’s marathon clinic, involved in a number of community and professional organizations – all while juggling a fun and busy social life with close-knit family and friends.
But in May 2008, I became a member of an exclusive club that nobody ever wants to join: I was hospitalized for a myocardial infarction caused by a 99% blocked coronary artery – what doctors call the “widow-maker” heart attack.
But here’s the truly frightening part of this story: two weeks earlier, I had actually been sent home from the same hospital’s Emergency Department with a misdiagnosis of acid reflux, despite presenting with textbook Hollywood heart attack symptoms like chest pain, nausea, sweating, and pain radiating down my left arm. “You’re in the right demographic for acid reflux!” was the confident pronouncement of my E.D. physician.
I left hospital that day feeling supremely embarrassed and apologetic because I’d made a big fuss “over nothing!” I continued to suffer increasingly debilitating symptoms for two full weeks (but hey! at least I knew it wasn’t my heart!) until symptoms finally became so severely unbearable that I again sought medical help – this time to a revised diagnosis of “significant heart disease”.
I later learned (while attending the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium at the world-famous Mayo Clinic) that, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, women my age and younger are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack and sent home from Emergency compared to our male counterparts presenting with identical symptoms.(1)
I launched Heart Sisters in 2009, mostly just to help publicize the presentations on women’s heart health I started doing after returning from Mayo. It’s now grown like Topsy thanks to over 2.8 million views so far from 190 countries! I call my blogging here “cardiac rehab for my brain”.
Welcome – so glad you found me here. ♥
(1) Pope JH, Aufderheide TP, Ruthazer R, et al. Missed diagnoses of acute cardiac ischemia in the emergency department. N Engl J Med. 2000;342:1163-1170.
Find more media coverage about my experience of misdiagnosis and survival at:
- Denying The Signs, The Heart & Stroke Foundation
- Gender Does Matter in Heart Disease, Women’s College Hospital
- Interview With a Heart Disease Survivor: Carolyn Thomas U.S. government’s Office of Women’s Health newsletter, February 2010
- Carolyn Thomas, Heart Attack Survivor , Alive magazine, February 2010
- Women’s Rights, Opportunities – and Heart Attack Risks – a guest column published for International Women’s Day, March 2010
- Health Bloggers You’ll Love, a More magazine piece featuring four Canadian women with health-related websites, February 2011
- Survivors and Medical Professionals Struggle to Inform Women About Heart Disease – Wichita Public Radio KMUW interview for Go Red For Women Day, February 2011
- Myths Endure About Women and Heart Attacks – Victoria Times Colonist, February 10, 2011
- Are Women Left Behind in Heart Disease Research? – my March 12, 2011 interview with Catherine Morgan of Blogher
- The Heart of the Matter – a Patient Focus feature in the industry journal BioSupply Trends (see page 68), January 2012
- Heartburn or a Heart Attack? – in Ladies Home Journal, February 2012
- A Woman’s Heart – in Diane magazine, written by Denise Foley, February 2012
- What Women Survivors Want You to Know from The Heart and Stroke Foundation, February 2012
- When Doctors Make Bad Calls in The Globe and Mail, February 2012
- What Women Survivors Want You to Know from The Heart and Stroke Foundation, March 2012
- Many People Ignore Signs, Delay Treatment of Heart Attack in the Wall Street Journal, April 2012
- Two-Thirds of Americans Now Track Key Health Indicators on the website Everyday Health, January 28, 2013
- What Women Need To Know About Heart Attacks in the Huffington Post, September 2013
- Carolyn Thomas: Heart Health Month – CBC Radio “North By Northwest”, approx 8 minutes, February 1, 2014
- Take Heart – Oak Bay News, February 14, 2014
- The Heart Attack Gender Gap – “The National” CBC News, March 19, 2014
- Midnight Friends: How Wired Patients Are Transforming Chronic Illness – NPR “Commonhealth”, WBUR Boston, May 2, 2014
- Heart Disease Killing More Women Than Men – Cowichan News Leader, November 5, 2014
- Heart Disease Isn’t Just For Men, After All – André Picard’s health column in The Globe and Mail, November 11, 2014
- Video Games and Health – Robert Woods Johnson Foundation Anthology (a biennial book series: starts on page 22) December 2014
- The Surprising Way to Stay Safe in Hospital – Consumer Reports, December 16, 2014 (not surprisingly, in the Don’t Worry About Being a Pest section)
- Heart Bypass Surgery: What Women Should Know – US News, January 23, 2015
- Women’s Health and Misdiagnosis – CKNW radio, January 23, 2015 (16 minute interview with host Simi Sara)
- Heart Attack Survivor Aims to Arm Women With Education – Oak Bay News, February 6, 2015
- Cardiac Rehab: Boosting Your Heart Recovery – US News, March 27, 2015
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And now here’s the bright side of my story. If I’d never had that heart attack:
- I would never have applied and been accepted to attend the annual WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium for Women with Heart Disease at the world-famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota – the first Canadian survivor ever invited to attend;
- I would never have started what turned out to be an award-winning website Heart Sisters (with over 3 million views) all about women and heart disease – our #1 killer. And I would never have been named one of ShareCare‘s Heart Disease: Top 10 Online Influencers.
- I would never have been named a ‘Women’s Health Hero‘ for 2009 by Our Bodies Ourselves of Boston – one of 20 inductees from seven countries honoured for women’s health activism in our communities;
- I would never have been granted media accreditation to attend the annual Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver in 2011 and 2014 to interview cardiac researchers firsthand while covering the conference proceedings for my Heart Sisters readers;
- I would never have been awarded an ePatient scholarship to attend Stanford University’s ‘Medicine X’ Conference in September 2012 in Palo Alto, California – based on my “history of patient engagement, community outreach and advocacy”;
- Until I was prescribed a fistful of cardiac drugs every day, I would never have been alarmed enough by what I was learning about Big Pharma’s pervasive influence on what’s become known as “marketing-based medicine” to launch my other website, The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics for the Easily Swayed.
But those are the only bright sides. I’d really love my old life back. Please . . .
See also: Welcome to Your New Country, my essay published in the Stanford University School of Medicine’s journal Scope
♥ Here’s how to contact me ♥