Fighting Against Heart Disease: Carolyn Thomas

May 1, 2009

From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011

Entrant: Self

Nominee: Carolyn Thomas, Founder of Heart Sisters

carolynjan09I didn’t realize that heart disease is the #1 killer of women – until I had my own heart attack in May of 2008.

I wish I knew before then what I have learned since.  Heart disease not only kills more women each year than breast cancer, it kills more women than all cancers combined. Heart disease kills more women than men each year.

We know that for the last three decades, virtually all cardiac research has been done either exclusively on men, or with women represented in  statistically insignificant numbers.  Because of this, women are shockingly under-diagnosed and under-treated compared to male heart patients.

I am, unfortunately, living proof of that. I was sent home from the E.R. – misdiagnosed with acid reflux – in spite of presenting with textbook heart attack symptoms (crushing chest pain, pain radiating down my left arm, sweating and nausea).  Two weeks of agonizing ongoing attacks later, I was hospitalized for an emergency angioplasty and implantation of a shiny new stainless steel stent in my left anterior coronary artery, which was 99% blocked.

In October 2008, five months after my heart attack, I became the first Canadian ever invited to attend the annual Mayo Clinic Science & Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease in Rochester, Minnesota.  This life-altering five days was part world-class cardiology lecture and part community activism bootcamp!

Since returning home to the West Coast from Mayo Clinic, I have devoted myself to helping educate other women about their biggest health threat.  I volunteer to speak wherever and whenever my health allows – at Heart & Stroke Foundation events, at workplace staff meetings, at health care employee workshops, and at what has become my signature community education event: my ‘Pinot & Prevention’ parties!

I am passionate (some might say obsessed!) with helping to raise women’s awareness of heart disease from the unique grassroots perspective of a heart attack survivor and 2008 Mayo Clinic-trained community educator.

To this end, I’ve developed a website called Heart Sisters to help provide distinctive female-focused information about heart disease risks, prevention, and women’s heart attack symptoms that may surprise you.

Unable to return to work yet as Communications Coordinator at our local hospice/palliative care society, I feel like I have now found my life’s work through my voice while I am off work on medical leave.

I hope to prevent other women from going through what I did, to encourage other women to become their own best health advocates, and to demand equal health care, diagnosis and treatment to combat their most dangerous disease.

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