By Nikki Patrick
January 27, 2012
PITTSBURG - Heather Baima, APRN, and Shelley Watts, APRN, want to clear up a common misconception.
“When you ask what the No. 1 killer of women is, a lot of people think that it’s breast cancer, but that’s not correct,” Watts said. “Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Actually, it’s the No. 1 killer of everybody.”
Both women know a great deal about heart disease because they see it every day.
Baima worked for 11 years as a nurse at St. John’s Medical Center in the Medical Cardiac Unit, and has been employed in the office of Dr. Ali Hammad, cardiologist, for the past 1 1/2 years. Watts has been a coordinating nurse practitioner in the office of Dr. Bashar Marji, cardiologist, for the past 2 1/2 years.
“We see people every day who suffer from heart-related illness, and it’s so sad,” Watts said. “This part of Kansas, Crawford and Cherokee Counties, has some of the highest rates of heart disease in the state.”
The good news is that people can do something about it.
Top risk factors for heart disease include having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, age and family history.
“You can’t dodge your genetics, but you can modify other risk factors,” Baima said. “You can keep your cholesterol low, stop smoking and lose excess weight.”
They are now planning several events in observance of the “Go Red for Women” campaign of the American Heart Association. The symbol of the campaign is a red dress.
“It symbolizes the fact that heart disease doesn’t care what you wear,” Baima said.
The official kickoff for Go Red will be a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 3 in the Via Christi Hospital community entrance.
The two sent out letters to area schools to get them involved, and Frontenac High School picked up the ball.
“There will be a Go Red basketball game at 6 p.m. Feb. 7 at Frontenac,” Baima said. “There will be T-shirts, with proceeds going to the American Heart Association, and we will be there.”
Baima and Watts will also speak at a Via Christi Lunch and Learn session on Feb. 10.
Living a heart-healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, but the Go Red campaign focuses on women for several reasons.
“One out of every four women will die from heart disease,” Baima said. “We are the caregivers, and are often too busy taking care of others to take care of ourselves.”
“Women also don’t have the typical heart symptoms,” Watts added. “For a woman, the signs of heart disease might be something as simple as just having shortness of breath when walking, or pain in the back or jaw.”
While heart disease is often thought to be mainly a problem in the elderly, this is changing.
“We are becoming more unhealthy as a nation,” Watts said. “We have people in their 30s and 40s with heart disease now. Our goal is to help younger people know how to prevent this.”
Many young people spend hours on the computer, and Baima has a message for them.
“Step away from your computer,” she said. “We teach women as young as high school the importance of getting healthy exercise.”
Modern busy lifestyles, and even economic pressures, contribute to the problem.
“Thirty or 40 years ago you didn’t have both parents in the workplace, or high school kids in the workplace as well as going to school,” Baima said. “It’s getting harder to fit exercise into many people’s lifestyle, then they drive through a fast food place for meals. It is wonderful to see that a lot of those places now have healthier choices. We just have to educate people to make those choices.”
And those choices should be made consistently.
“It can’t just be a diet, it can’t be something you do until your cholesterol is down,” Baima said. “It has to be a lifestyle change.”
She acknowledged that change can take time, and noted that making unrealistic goals is not the best way to go.
“Slowly build up to a healthier lifestyle,” Baima said. “Set an attainable goal, like walking for 15 minutes three days a week. Anything that you do consistently for four weeks will become a habit.”
Additional information is available through Go Red BetterU, the American Heart Association’s free 12-week online program. It is available at GoRedforWomen.org.