about me

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: Larissa Jane, who lives with her hubby Randy two blocks away from her Mama (their wedding was last August) and Ben, who last year moved back to his hometown here; he and his lovely bride Paula have recently returned home from a 3-month trip to India.

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.*

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 one million visitors so far from 190 countries! I call my blogging here (and at my other site The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics for the Easily Swayed) “cardiac rehab for my brain”. 

Welcome – so glad you found me here! 

* 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.

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Find more media coverage about my experience of misdiagnosis and survival at:

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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 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 64th annual Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver in 2011 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.

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But those are the only bright sides. I’d really love my old life back. Please . . .

See also: The New Country Called Heart Disease

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♥   Here’s how to contact me  

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And while you’re here, please visit my other site

The Ethical Nag:  Marketing Ethics for the Easily Swayed

This page was last updated on October 1, 2013
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