LIJ event sheds light on women’s cardiovascular health

Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Rich Bockmann

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and each year more women than men die from the disorder.

There is something called the “Angina Monologues.”

These surprising, incontrovertible truths were at the center of LIJ Medical Center’s Wear Red for Women Day Feb. 3, when cardiologists and staff members donned red to raise awareness of women’s cardiovascular health.

“People in the past have always thought of it as a men’s disease,” said Stacey Rosen, a cardiologist and vice president of the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s Women’s Health Clinical Service.

“We have this image of an older man clutching his chest in pain,” she said, explaining that women’s cardiovascular mortality rates have been greater than those of their male counterparts for close to a century. “Even in the medical world we didn’t really appreciate it.”

One of the reasons for this, the doctor said, is the symptoms of a heart attack are often different for women.

“It’s not always the ‘elephant on the chest’ feeling, or the pain radiating through the jaw and the left arm. For women, it can be as subtle as breathlessness or fatigue. I’ve had women come to me who said before hand they just didn’t feel right. The symptoms can be more vague and less well-appreciated,” she said.

Doctors urged women to find a primary doctor at age 20 and to take notice of the warning signs and risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, such as family history, tobacco use, high cholesterol, diabetes and increases in blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

“The most important thing is to listen to your body,” said Jennifer Mieres, vice president of the office of community and public health. “And take 10 minutes a day to laugh.”

Following the well-worn adage, the day’s best medicine came not from the MDs, but from actors Carol Lempert and Jacob Moore, of the non-profit Events of the Heart.

“It was such a brilliant experiment. I was 9 and obsessed with Superman,” Moore read from Shelly Goldstein’s “A Son’s Reflection,” which recounts the youngster’s attempts to fly, a science experiment gone awry and the time he tried to hitch a ride by grabbing the back of a bus while on roller skates.

“You’ll be the death of me. You’ll give me a heart attack,” his mother would tell him. Then, one day while at college, he got the news that she had died of a heart attack.

“It was my fault, not because of all the stupid things I did as a kid, but because I never knew heart attacks took her mother and her grandmother. It was my fault because she never went to the doctor and I didn’t know she had to,” he said, lamenting she will not be around to see his son make his heart palpitate.

Lempert’s piece, “Another Piece of My Heart,” also by Goldstein, begins with a type-A personality woman who, while juggling her cell phone and BlackBerry, manages the lives and crises of her friends and family.

“I’ve done everything. I mean I got my niece into Cambridge, my cousin into rehab and my rabbi into Nobu … on Shavous!” she said. “Thanks to me my sister has vintage Chanel in her closet and her son out of it.”

The character puts things into perspective once her doctor tells her she is a heart attack waiting to happen.

“I put my heart into everything I do. Now I have to put everything I do into my heart,” she finally vows.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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