HeartSmart

It wasn’t the mild, sporadic flutters in her chest that would periodically come and go. Nor was it the fact that she got winded walking three blocks with her husband from their parking spot to the downtown theatre where they sometimes attended performances.

It would be a gripping pain in the center of her chest and shortness of breath that lasted for 10 frightening minutes that would ultimately command Sharon Fadler Frankel’s undivided attention.

“I was just finishing up my Pilates class and I was in the cool-down session,” explains the 55-year-old of the April 2009 incident. “I really thought it was low blood sugar or something.”

The unsuspecting mother and wife had taken Pilates classes for nearly four years and was completely unaware of the severe threat she faced.

A medical professional who happened to be in the class urged Sharon to see a doctor that day, and thankfully, she did. 

There can be little doubt that this story’s happy ending stemmed from that good advice as well as Sharon’s swift actions.

“That was my wake-up call,” says Sharon. “That episode scared me enough to call and see my doctor that very day.”

Whirlwind diagnosis

When she reflects back on those early months of 2009, and the mild flutters that occurred over several weeks, Sharon admits that heart issues were the last thing on her mind.

“I just thought it was probably from stress, not getting enough sleep, maybe acid reflux or from being out of shape,” says the vibrant and upbeat Sharon.

But that Friday afternoon visit to her internist, Marie Delcambre, MD, in April would prove otherwise.

An electrocardiogram (EKG) test was run and an abnormal T wave indicated that further testing was necessary.

Delcambre wanted to check Sharon into the hospital for further testing that day, but afraid of overreacting, Sharon opted to set up testing the following week.

Four days later, Sharon underwent a nuclear stress test and echocardiogram at Midwest Cardiology Associates at Overland Park-based Menorah Medical Center, part of HCA Midwest Health System.

Invasive cardiologist Elizabeth V. Dang, MD, FACC, interpreted the results–which were markedly abnormal–within hours. She advised Sharon’s husband Scott–who is trained in internal medicine and specializes in allergy and asthma–and Delcambre of her suspicions, and said she wanted to perform a cardiac catheterization test the following day.

During the procedure, for which a catheter is typically threaded from the groin area into a chamber or vessel of the heart, Sharon and her husband Scott were informed that Sharon’s left anterior descending (LAD) artery contained a 90 percent blockage and that she had coronary artery disease (CAD).

An interventional cardiologist was promptly summoned to perform a balloon angioplasty and subsequently inserted a medicated stent.

Sharon remained at Menorah overnight for observation, but amazingly says she felt great once everything was over.

“I just wanted to get back to my mission in life which was helping children,” says Sharon who works as a marketing consultant for the Lenexa-based St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf.

And get back to her mission–and then some–she did.

On the flip side

As a heart disease survivor, Sharon is now vigilant about taking care of herself. She takes cholesterol medication, Plavix and aspirin. She also carries nitroglycerine at all times.

She ceased taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as some studies suggest that taking HRT (specifically estrogen) for 10 years or more can increase one’s risk of heart disease. Sharon had taken HRT for nine and a half years.

Additionally, Sharon has lowered her cholesterol by 40 points, altered her diet, eliminated salt and increased her exercise while working to lose weight.

She contends that by following her doctors’ orders “to the letter,” educating herself about heart disease and working to minimize her risk factors, she now enjoys excellent health once more.

She has even maintained her sense of humor.

“The doctors later told me that the position of my blocked LAD artery is often known as ‘the widow maker,'” says Sharon. “Or in my case, the ‘widower’ maker!”

While the outcome has been favorable, Sharon takes her experience very seriously, and the question remains as to why she was hit with heart disease.

“I had no personal or family heart disease, no history and no prior symptoms,” says Sharon.

While many who face heart disease require time to psychologically and physically rebound, Sharon wasted no time getting her life back on track, saying that the second chance she had been handed spurred her to re-evaluate what was important in her life.

She reconnected with relatives, many of whom she had not seen in several years. She took several road trips with her mother and spent time with cousins, aunts and uncles, tightening up ties that had slowly unraveled over time.

“It was so wonderful to do that,” says Sharon. “Family is the most important thing you have.”

She also realized that she wanted to use her experience to teach women how to be more cognizant of cardiac health and how to make better choices about their health.

“Heart disease is the number one killer of women, and in order to change the statistics, we must build awareness now,” says Sharon.

Empowering by experience

Sharon’s recovery has led her toward a position of mentorship in which she actively advocates for women’s heart health.

Her background as a marketing professional in law and accounting firms for 25-plus years has afforded Sharon a natural ability to comfortably communicate with people from different socio-economic backgrounds, professions and cultures.

She is proficient at tailoring any presentation she gives specifically to her audience–whether it is a friend, a roomful of women, nursing staff members or a television anchor.

After her procedure, her testimonial was featured on Menorah’s Web site, which led to the local American Heart Association (AHA) asking her to be a spokeswoman in the Go Red for Women media blitz. 

Numerous media interviews followed, and Sharon continued to learn more by attending symposiums, including “A Day of Heart Health” presented in March 2010 by the Kansas City WomenHeart organization.

Sharon became extremely interested in WomenHeart, the nation’s only patient-centered organization serving the 42 million American women living with or at risk for heart disease, and applied to become a WomenHeart Champion.

In 2010, she was one of 55 heart disease survivors selected from a nationally competitive application process to attend a four-day symposium at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

She graduated from the prestigious annual WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium at Mayo Clinic in October 2010 as a WomenHeart Champion, and now serves as a community leader and national spokesperson on women’s heart health.

“The class of 2010 is extremely impressive,” says Lisa M. Tate, chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-headquartered WomenHeart. “These 55 women are living with the most devastating of chronic diseases, and yet have made a conscious decision and selfless commitment to help other women live heart healthy lives and support those currently living with the disease.”

Sharon now joins the ranks of only 520 inspirational Champion women from across the country that comprise the true “boots on the ground” in the fight against heart disease. Sharon continues to speak to community, state and national audiences about the prevalence of heart disease in women and how it is so often under-diagnosed and mistreated.

The heart of the matter

Above all, Sharon’s core personal message revolves around three points: 1) Women need to take time to care for themselves and listen to their bodies. 2) Women should have annual check-ups with their doctor, including a blood work-up and cholesterol check. 3) Women need to understand what it means to make heart-healthy choices with regard to diet, exercise, not smoking and finding methods to reduce stress.

“One of the key factors I’ve learned is that heart disease can affect women of all ages and walks of life, especially the least suspecting ones,” says Sharon.

She notes that many women are busy professionals, wives, mothers, and caregivers–running households, raising children and caring for elderly parents, while also devoting time to volunteering and participating in other civic, trade or social organizations. Facing multiple demands on a daily basis, women often feel that everyone else comes first.

She adds that most women can identify with taking care of someone and trying to get the next 12 things done before going to bed. However, Sharon offers another very compelling truth:

“In order for women to be around to provide the necessary care for others, it is critical for them to take care of themselves first.”

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Hormones and Stress

 Elizabeth V. Dang, MD, FACC, an invasive cardiologist at Menorah Medical Center’s Midwest Cardiology Associates, says that while hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was historically used in postmenopausal women based on perceived heath benefits – including reduced risk of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and reduction in hot flashes – there has been a dramatic shift in that thinking.

Dang says that newer clinical trials suggest HRT should not be started or continued for the prevention or treatment of coronary heart disease.

 “Initiation of hormone therapy for severe postmenopausal symptoms should be done only with very careful consideration of associated cardiovascular risk,” says Dang. 

Stress is another complicated factor as physical and emotional stress result in adrenalin release which can cause the heart to beat faster and blood pressure to increase.

Certain types of stress – if left unmanaged – can lead to risk factors that can contribute to heart disease such as lack of exercise (which can lead to weight gain and obesity), elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure. Increased stress can also lead to cigarette smoking which poses a clear, harmful effect on coronary heart disease.

Dang says that while it may be impossible to escape the stress in our lives, we can still find ways to manage stress by way of regular exercise (at least 30 minutes, five to six days a week), a heart-healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and by recognizing our stress triggers and discovering ways to decrease them.

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Do You Know Your Numbers?

Total Cholesterol:  <200 mg/dL

LDL “Bad” Cholesterol:

Optimal:  <100 mg/dL

Near optimal/Above Optimal:  100-129 mg/dL

Borderline High:  130-159 mg/dL

High:  160-189 mg/dL

Very High:  190 mg/dL and above

HDL (“Good”) Cholesterol:  50 mg/dL or higher

Triglycerides:  <150 mg/dL

Blood pressure:  <120/80 mmHg

Fasting Glucose:  <100 mg/dL

Body Mass Index (BMI):  <25

Waist Circumference:  <35 inches

Source:  WomenHeart – The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease

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 Do You Live Heart Healthy?

* Follow a low-fat and low-sodium diet

* Add regular physical activity to your daily routine–at least 30 minutes a day

* Lose weight–even a little will help

* Stop smoking–or never start

* Reduce and manage stress

* Know your numbers

* Talk to your doctor about aspirin

Source: WomenHeart – The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease

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Did You Know These Heart Disease Facts?

• Heart disease is the number one killer of women.

• More women than men die of heart disease each year.

• Heart disease is not always genetic in nature. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease, poor dietary patterns, high sodium intake, smoking, being overweight or obese and physical inactivity are all factors that increase your risk of heart disease.

• African-American, Hispanic and Native American women are all at greater risk of heart disease than white women.

• Cigarette smoking results in a 2-3 times increased risk of dying from heart disease.

• Nearly five times as many women (200,000) will die from heart attacks alone this year than will die from breast cancer.

• Heart disease is preventable

Source: WomenHeart – The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease

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 Do You Know Heart Attack Warning Signs?

• Chest discomfort, pain, squeezing, burning or mild to severe pressure in the center of your chest that lasts or comes and goes

• Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach

• Shortness of breath without chest discomfort

• Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, nausea and vomiting, cold sweats

* Feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness–unexplained or upon exertion

Source: WomenHeart – The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease

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KEY ONLINE RESOURCES

• www.womenheart.org  – WomenHeart

• www.americanheart.org  – American Heart Association

• www.familyatheart.org – Family at Heart

• www.hearthealthywomen.org  – Heart Healthy Women

• www.heartmates.com – Heartmates

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words: Rachael Hedgcoth

photo: Jenny Wheat

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