“It’s no hobby. It is a vital service.”


by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters

Hobby: häbē/ noun. an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure. “Her hobbies are reading, knitting and gardening”

I’m guessing that those of us who have ‘graduated’ from the WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium For Women With Heart Disease (a training program held each fall at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota) rarely consider our volunteer contributions as a “hobby” in the birdwatching/jewelry-making/focaccia-baking sense of that word.

We already know that our Mayo training gives us ‘street cred’.  The days we spent experiencing world-class “cardiology bootcamp” in Rochester opened doors that allow us to share what we’ve learned as community educators, media spokespersons or heart patient support group leaders. So far, over 600 WomenHeart ‘champions’ in the U.S. (and two of us here in Canada) have been trained to be “the boots on the ground” in the fight against women’s heart disease – our #1 killer. According to WomenHeart, 45% of the women who graduate from this annual training at Mayo have been credited with saving someone’s life.

But sometimes, we are smacked upside the head by those who simply have no clue about the difference between a volunteer and a hobbyist. Take, for example, this story from my heart sister, Leslea Steffel-Dennis

Leslea Steffel-Dennis and BJ Babcock

Leslea along with BJ Babcock (another Mayo grad) co-facilitate the WomenHeart Patient Support Group in Vancouver, Washington.  Leslea is one of the most senior of all active group coordinators in the U.S. Like me, she’s a heart attack survivor who sports a nice shiny stainless steel stent to help prop open a fully-blocked left anterior descending coronary artery, and subsequent to that procedure, was also diagnosed with coronary microvascular disease – what she now refers to as her “lasting companion”.  Leslea’s cardiac diagnoses came as a shock (given her low risk factors) and are what started her on her “mission to alert women that we are all at risk.”  Here’s the story she told me recently:

Yesterday, I was called to jury duty. Fourteen potential jurors (three of them women) were called into the courtroom to be considered for a trial.

The judge, prosecutor and defense lawyers (all male) would make their decision on who would make up this jury, based on the judge’s questions to us.
I was third to be asked, so I had a brief minute to consider my answers when he asked me: “What do you do”?

“I am co-coordinator in this county for WomenHeart, the national organization dedicated to supporting, educating and advocating for women living with heart disease and those at risk. I trained at the Mayo Clinic to learn how to do this. I am living with heart disease.”

The judge asked: “Are you a medical professional”?


His response: “Oh. It’s your hobby”.

What then tripped off my tongue was an agitated:

“It is no hobby – it is a vital service.”

He did not continue with me to ask any of the other questions he asked of all the others.

Needless to say, I was dismissed. I was not to be a juror.

Wonder if the outcome would have been different if the judge or one of the attorneys had been a woman?

Watch Dr. Sharonne Hayes, Lisa Tate and Carol Allred share their thoughts about this unique cardiology training event for women.

Learn more about WomenHeart: The National Coalition For Women With Heart Disease


Q: What do you make of the judge’s response to Leslea?

See also:

February is HEART MONTH! Do something smart for your heart today!





3 thoughts on ““It’s no hobby. It is a vital service.”

  1. Wow. I’d love to hear more about what sort of trial this was. Not that it would justify that judge’s apparently dismissive attitude. Sexism comes in many guises. What would he have said to a mom who didn’t work outside her home? ‘Oh, you’re a mother? Are you a childcare professional? No? So, it’s a hobby then…’



  2. The work that we do for WomenHeart is no hobby! It’s a calling.

    WomenHeart changed my life literally. My exposure to the support group and my facilitator’s encouragement to apply for the Symposium gave me the strength to change the negative things in my life and become a better person. Four plus years later, I am healthy, working, going back to school for my MSW and loving all my WomenHeart activities. I owe this organization everything and give to it with joy.

    Hobby? No. Passion? Yes!


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