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 two travel 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 who, luckily for me, both live here in their hometown. Ben Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 6.33.59 AM.pngmoved back after university in Ontario with his lovely bride Paula following a few 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 had their very first baby (and my first grandchild), the ever-so-sweet happy girl, Everly Rose, in May 2015.

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 public relations in order to do something socially meaningful for a change. Thus I was able to round out my three decades of PR experience in corporate, government and not-for-profit sectors – ranging from Mercedes-Benz to the Salvation Army.

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, while working at the Victoria Hospice and Palliative Care Society, I became a member of an exclusive club that nobody ever wants to join:  I was hospitalized for a myocardial infarction caused by a 95% blocked coronary artery – what doctors call the “widow-maker” heart attack.

But here’s the 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) 

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My very first “Pinot & Prevention” audience after coming home from my Mayo Clinic training in 2008!

I launched this blog Heart Sisters in 2009, mostly just to help publicize my free “Pinot & Prevention” presentations on women’s heart health I started doing after returning from that Mayo training.  It’s now grown like Topsy, with over 8 million views so far from 190 countries! I call my blogging “cardiac rehab for my brain”. My writing’s also been published internationally, including in the British Medical Journal. And in 2014, the BMJ invited me to be a Patient Reviewer for cardiology papers submitted to the journal for publication, part of their innovative peer review process.

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.

Thank you for visiting Heart Sisters!

Here’s how this site’s annual traffic has grown, from 27,000 views in 2009 to over 3.6 million views in 2015.

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Here are some examples of 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 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”;

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

♥   Here’s how to contact me  

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This page was last updated on July 13, 2016

 

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