For the Love of Your Life

Saint Luke's heart program allows couples to monitor their health together.



Mike and Toni Evans 435 Magazine Kansas City

Mike and Toni Evans

   For years, Toni Evans had on her to-do list going for a health screening with her husband, Mike. But the Shawnee couple never got around to it, mainly because Mike was resistant.

   But then a colleague of Toni’s told her about Saint Luke’s Health System’s “For the Love of Your Life” heart wellness screening program for couples, and Toni jumped at the chance to tell her husband of 45 years about it.

   And, as it turned out, convincing Mike to go was easy. The price was right — a total of $175 for both of them — and Saint Luke’s excellent reputation was the icing on the cake. And he wanted to go to support his wife.

   “I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t Saint Luke’s,” Mike says. And he’s glad he did. Of the two of them, he thought it would be Toni who would get surprising results. As a kidney cancer survivor and someone who is on medication for blood pressure and cholesterol, and on a monitor for sleep apnea, Mike felt he was on top of his health.

   But while Toni checked out fine, Mike discovered he had severe plaque buildup in his coronary arteries. “He was in total shock when he got the results,” Toni says. “He always takes care of himself, so he was scared.”

   Mike is now undergoing routine testing and care for his heart. In this month of Thanksgiving, he is thankful for the Saint Luke’s program.

   “I think it’s a very good thing to do, and I have encouraged all my friends to do it,” he says. “They haven’t all done it yet, but several of them have.”

   The Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center’s “For the Love of Your Life” program is open to any couple — spouses, best friends, siblings — any twosome under age 65 that loves each other and is committed to heart health together.

   For the $175 fee, couples get their cholesterol, blood sugar, thyroid and BMI tested, plus a CardioScan — which typically costs $50 for one person — that measures the plaque in coronary arteries. Then they get at least a one-hour appointment with an advanced cardiovascular nurse, who goes over their individual test results and really dives into strategies for bettering their health. If need be, as in Mike’s case, further testing is recommended.

   The program, says Dr. Tracy Stevens, medical director for the WHC, was created about two years ago because studies show that people who live together often share the same lifestyle, which can mean sharing the same risk factors for heart disease. And, since 95 percent of heart disease is preventable through lifestyle choices, a couple’s preventive health screening can prompt them to act as a team to stay accountable to each other about their health.

   “What’s so powerful about this package is you can’t go home and lie to the other about what was said,” Stevens says. “They can hold each other’s feet to the fire. They eat and prepare the same meals. We give them credible tools to know how to prepare foods, how to shop for foods within a store that’s in their neighborhood.”

   Part of the appeal of the program, too, is that participants come when they don’t have symptoms or a health complaint. “They’re not in a crisis where they need to be in the hospital; they don’t need to see a physician or a provider,” Stevens says. “They want time in a non-threatening environment where they can learn from the best. When you have a sidekick with you, you’re more likely to be successful.”

   Plus, it’s a nice way for the hospital to partner with people in the community.

“They can leave here feeling good with a plan,” Stevens says. “We’re here for them to come back to, and we’re also a referral assistance. If they need an appointment, we’ll make that appointment for them. But they do not have to be affiliated with Saint Luke’s. We don’t want to compete with what their primary care physician is doing and addressing, but any more, that is what is getting compromised because our primary care providers are being asked to do so much more than ever, and the preventive piece is difficult.”

   Taylor Berry is a registered nurse and the program’s heart wellness coordinator who goes over the results with the couples. She has a sign in her office that reads: “Nothing tastes as good as health feels.” The joy of her job is seeing couples have a light-bulb moment about their health. “We’ve caught several patients who thought they were fine and then discovered they have a very, very significant calcium score,” she says. “To know we found that before something bad happened is really rewarding.”  

   Indeed, says Stevens, the program has saved lives. “Sometimes a heart attack can be silent, and you don’t know you’ve got disease until the big one hits,” she says. “We do have examples where they went on to have an angiogram and onto bypass surgery. The majority of the time we find a risk factor that needs to be fine-tuned and can be fine-tuned if one takes ownership of that. We don’t write prescriptions during the visit. It’s about lifestyle changes, incredible tools that they can take to reduce their No. 1 health threat.”

   She says the hospital is adopting a strategy of thinking of food as medicine. “We’re so far off track now,” she says. “Americans are eating what they want, not what they need.” And we’ve become way too sedentary, she says. Stevens encourages everyone to not sit more than 30 minutes at a time. For example, if at work, marching in place even for one or two minutes every half hour is beneficial.

   Stevens says six lifestyle choices can make all the difference: don’t smoke, limit alcohol consumption, control blood pressure, control cholesterol, limit sugar intake, and move around. Pick any two of these to improve upon and you get a 92 percent reduction in your risk for heart attack or stroke. She says it all boils down to one word: discipline. “Who is responsible for your health?” she asks. “Is it you or me?”

 

Heart Wellness Facts

  •  Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women over the age of 35.
  •  Women who had high blood pressure and/or diabetes during pregnancy, chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment for breast cancer, and those with polycystic ovary syndrome are at increased risk for heart disease.
  • Eighty percent of all women have at least one risk factor.
  • Education and awareness are two of the major defenses we have against heart disease.
  • To learn more about “For the Love of Your Life” program, call (816) 932-5784 or visit saintlukeshealthsystem.org.