by Carolyn Thomas ♥ @HeartSisters
Since 1973 (when I was just a tiny baby), my work background has been in journalism, communications and public relations, spanning almost four decades in corporate, government and non-profit sectors ranging from Mercedes Benz to the Salvation Army. I’m a refugee from the Niagara Falls area to the balmy west coast of Canada; I’m the author of two west coast travel books and one book about living with heart disease; 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.
I have two grown kidlets who, luckily for me, live close by with their respective families: my son Ben, his wife Paula and the adorable Baby Zack have recently moved into their first home about eight blocks away from me, while my daughter Larissa, her hubby Randy and their charming 6-year old daughter Everly Rose live even closer!
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, 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)
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 grown like Topsy, with over 19 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.
Johns Hopkins University Press approached me in 2015 to ask if I’d ever considered writing a book based on my Heart Sisters blog articles. Thus began a two-year adventure culminating in my book called “A Woman’s Guide to Living With Heart Disease” (ask for it at your local library, favourite bookshop or order online and save 20% off the list price by using the JHUP discount code HTWN when you order!)
(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.
Here’s how this site’s annual traffic grew from 27,000 views in 2009 to over 4 million in 2016 (and now over 19 million so far!)
.Here are some examples of media coverage about my experience of heart attack and survival at:
Denying The Signs, The Heart & Stroke Foundation
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
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
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
Weekend Morning interview – CBC Radio interview with host Terry MacLeod, May 17, 2015
Heartwarming Talk Returns To Monterey Centre – Oak Bay News, May 21, 2015
Empowerment Comes From Knowledge At ‘Your Heart, Your Health’ – Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, May 25, 2015 (photo below)
Raising Heart Disease Awareness Among Women – Global News BC, June 5, 2015 (photo below; interview starts about 1:01 into the clip)
When Working Becomes a Risky Business – Globe and Mail, July 13, 2015
Improving Diagnosis in Health Care (video, 6:49)- Institute of Medicine, September 22, 2015
This is Your Heart – National Post and (online) Personal Health News, February 19, 2016
Why is Heart Disease in Canadian Women Still Being Missed? – Globe and Mail, March 6, 2016.
The Heart Sisters Blog: Feature Interview With Carolyn Thomas – EP Lab Monthly, April 2016.
2016 Experts by Experience: A Compilation of Patient Stories (my essay “Welcome To Your New Country” on page 8) – Stanford University School of Medicine/ Inspire, June 2016.
Medical Research Has a Sex Problem – PBS “Nova”, July 13, 2016.
What You Need to Know About Stroke & Heart Disease, Canadian Living, February 2017.
Talk Puts Women’s Heart Health in Focus, Oak Bay News, February 2017.
Victoria Hospitals Foundation Aims for the Heart – Oak Bay News, October 27, 2017.
‘In a Heartbeat’ Campaign: How this Technology Saves Heart Patients – CTV News (clip is at 17:26-19.20), October 27, 2017 (see below: photo of me and my favourite cardiologist, Dr. Manjeet Mann)
Having a Heart to Heart About Life-Saving Tools – Victoria Times-Colonist, October 28, 2017
A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease: An Interview with Carolyn Thomas, Marie Ennis O’Connor, Patient Empowerment Network, December 3, 2017
Grey’s Anatomy Finally Tackles Medicine’s Gender Bias, Pacific Standard, February 8, 2018
One Woman on Her Emotional Challenges After a Heart Attack“ (Thanks Kathleen for including my pre-discharge advice!) March 2018 issue of Canadian Living.
Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick, Maya Dusenbery (Harper Collins 2018) – this book includes my interview in the women’s heart disease chapter
Why Heart Disease is the Leading Cause of Death in Women, and Why Many Women are Unaware of the Risks They Face, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, February 27, 2018.
.The New and (Un)improved Doctor-Patient Relationship: a 10-minute podcast by Michael Joyce at Health News Review (my interview starts at about 5:35)
Carolyn Thomas – Author of “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease” – CFAX radio interview, July 26, 2018
Feel Healthy with Dr. Scott Lear: my 35-minute podcast interview with Simon Fraser University professor/cardiac researcher Dr. Scott Lear, August 29, 2018.
The Link Between Pregnancy Complications And Heart Health: What You Need To Know – Chatelaine magazine, October 2018
CBC radio interview with Sheryl MacKay of North By NorthWest about women, heart disease and what surprised her while reading my new book (about 17 minutes, between 1:18-1:35) February 2019
Heart Attack Survivors Take a Stand Against Heart Disease – You Are UnLTD magazine, February 2019
The Female Heart: Beating to a Different Drummer – Seaside magazine, July 2019.
♥ Watch this 22-minute documentary called “A Typical Heart“, a remarkable Canadian film about the deadly disparity between male and female heart disease, as experienced through the lens of healthcare professionals, researchers, patients and their families (NOTE: I was one of the eight Canadian heart patients interviewed).
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For those who like to believe that I must have needed a cardiac crisis to add meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence (I didn’t!), here’s how you might like to view 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 this prestigious training;
- I would never have started what turned out to be an award-winning website Heart Sisters all about women and heart disease. 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, 2014 and 2017 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”.
- I would never have written my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease. It’s available in paperback, hardcover, or e-book (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2017). You can save 20% off the list price by using the discount code HTWN when you order this book online. ♥
But those are the only bright sides. I’d really love my old life back. Please . . .
♥ Here’s how to contact me ♥