I am not a Mayo Clinic employee, and I've never been a Mayo Clinic patient.
But I am a heart attack survivor who last October travelled from the West Coast of Canada to Rochester to attend the annual WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease at Mayo Clinic - the first Canadian ever invited to attend!
I discovered that this Symposium was part world-class cardiology education (with lectures from Mayo cardiologist like Dr. Sharonne Hayes and Dr. Rekha Mankad among others) and part community activism bootcamp!
What we learned at Mayo Clinic was shocking, even to heart attack survivors:
* Heart disease is the #1 killer of North American women
* Heart disease kills more women than men each year
* Heart disease kills six times more women than breast cancer does - in fact, heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined
* Women are under-diagnosed and under-treated compared to male heart patients
* Most women are unaware of their heart disease risk factors - yet up to 80% of heart disease is preventable!
We also toured the Mayo Cardiovascular Diagnostic Center, met dozens of Mayo Clinic employees (who came into work on a Sunday to help teach us about their departments) and our training covered topics ranging from 'Diagnosing Heart Disease' to 'Drugs and Devices' and even a full day of public speaking training. This intensive (and intense!) four days is an annual collaboration between the Mayo Women's Heart Clinic, WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, the Mayo Clinic Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, the Mayo Clinic Office of Women's Health, and corporate partners who generously sponsor the cost of hotel accommodation, meals and tuition at the Symposium for all women attending. We also spent a day at the beautiful Assissi Heights site learning about 'Heart Disease and Mental Health Issues', 'Nutrition for Your Heart', and even 'Tai Chi for Heart Health'.
Each year, 50-60 women - all heart patients - are trained at Mayo to help educate other women back home about heart disease from the unique grassroots perspective of a Mayo Clinic-trained heart attack survivor.
But how to do this? When I returned home from Rochester, I was excited to start sharing everything I'd learned with any women who would sit still long enough. I decided to organize what I called a 'Pinot and Prevention Party' for November. But then I suddenly wondered what I'd just committed myself to doing. "What woman in her right mind is going to leave her home on a cold winter evening to come out and listen to me going on and on about heart disease, of all things?"
But at that first 'P and P' party in November, 21 women, all dressed in red and bearing trays of heart-smart appetizers to share (plus bottles of wine, of course!) crammed in my friend's living room.
Over the next two hours, we discussed women's heart disease, our risk factors and how to address them, and warning signs of a heart attack - all information I had just learned at Mayo Clinic.
I also set up 'Heart Sisters', a website focused entirely on women's heart disease and upcoming heart health presentations - http://www.myheartsisters.org - and am now booked up two months in advance for future presentations. Because of ongoing cardiac symptoms, I am still physically unable to do these talks more than once a week. So far, I've spoken at these 'Pinot and Prevention Parties', at Heart and Stroke Foundation events, at women's community organization and service club meetings, at business 'Lunch and Learn' employee workshops, and at 'Education Day' forums for health care professionals.
It sounds corny, I know, but I feel that I have found my life's work since returning from my Mayo Clinic training. I consider this WomenHeart Symposium to be a life-altering event that has actually changed my own perspective about suffering a heart attack on May 6, 2008. Had I not had that heart attack, I would never have gone to Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Had I not gone to Mayo Clinic, I would not now be sharing the crucial information I learned with other women, and just as importantly, with health care professionals.
Just the words 'Mayo Clinic' can open doors to reach local physicians, nurses and other health care professionals. I know these doors would be shut tight to me without the credibility of this world-famous institution. Without my Mayo Clinic training, I'd just be another heart attack survivor trying to figure out what I could do to help prevent other women from going through what I did last spring.
PS -- FYI: More info about the annual WomenHeart Symposium at: http://www.womenheart.org/programsEvents/programs/national.cfm
This post was written by Carolyn Thomas from Victoria, BC, Canada, a heart attack survivor.