By: Ashley Byars
February is American Heart Month and is intended to bring awareness to a disease that is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. WomenHeart, the leading voice for over 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease, are helping to raise awareness surrounding risk factors, prevalence, and prevention of heart disease in women.
In the first part of our feature with WomenHeart, we interviewed their team to learn more about their #HappyHeart campaign and partnerships that are helping them to have an even further impact on saving lives this month and beyond. In part two we interview WomenHeart Champion, Joe Ann Burgett, on what it means to be a survivor and mentor for other women diagnosed with heart disease.
The uniqueness of WomenHeart stems from their WomenHeart Champions – all of them survivors of heart disease. Together and individually, they are the face of heart disease – the individuals most qualified to share their experiences with others and support other women as they struggle to live with a chronic disease. Each woman has a compelling story of the road to diagnosis and their day-to-day struggles to maintain their heart health and their lives, from navigating the daunting healthcare system to maintaining a prescription drug regime. Keep reading to learn more about Joe Ann’s story and the amazing role of the WomenHeart Champions.
- What is your role in raising heart health awareness among women? I am a 2003 graduate of the Mayo Science and Leadership symposium, a WomenHeart Champion, Support Network Leader, and District Community Leader for East North Central District (MI, OH, IN, & KY).
- How does having lived with heart disease make you uniquely qualified to be a WomenHeart Champion? I tell people that everything that I know about life, I learned from my death. On July 1, 2002, I flat-lined three times during a heart cath at St. John’s Hospital in Detroit, MI. My diagnosis is unstable angina at rest. My heart story and my experience with heart disease and I believe that my nearly twenty year journey with WomenHeart makes me uniquely qualified to serve as a Champion.
- What type of training do WomenHeart Champions receive prior to sharing their stories and messages about heart health and leading WomenHeart Support Networks? My initial training was at the Mayo Clinic Scientific and Leadership Symposium in 2003 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Since then I have participated in countless hours of training at Support Network Conferences, facilitated at countless heart health expos, served as a keynote speaker at national and international events, and have met some of the most world renowned cardiologists and heart surgeons, including Dr. Nanette Wenger (Dr. Nanette Wenger is professor of medicine, Division of Cardiology, Emory University School of Medicine. Area of Specialty: Cardiology), Dr. Robert Jarvik, (Inventor of the artificial heart), Dr. Sharonne Hayes,-Professor, Cardiovascular Medicine: Founder Women’s Heart Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. My cardiologist kids with me about the state of the art medical knowledge and training that I have received as a WomenHeart Champion. He often tells me that I receive the most up to date medical research findings, often six to 12 months before he does. I am honored and privileged to be a part of the WomenHeart Sisterhood.
- How do WomenHeart Champions connect with newly diagnosed women and what types of support is offered? Champions connect with newly diagnosed women in several different ways. We meet some of them directly in the hospital while they are in-patients during heart events, others come to our support network meetings or meet us at health fairs, many join our virtual support networks, and others become acquainted with us on our website. We advertise in our communities on social media, print media, and radio spots. We distribute our Heart Scarves through local hospitals. They are included in our Red Bags of Courage which also include an invitation to our local support network. If the hospital allows, we make one on one visits with the patients, present them with a red scarf and a personal invitation to join the network.