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Lady, How's your heart?

Jewish Healthcare Foundation initiative aims to make women smarter about their hearts

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

By Deborah Mendenhall, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

What's the leading cause of death for women? If you guessed breast cancer, you're in good company. That's what most people think, thanks to aggressive public awareness campaigns like the Race for the Cure that have put breast cancer at center stage.

But you're dead wrong. Cardiovascular diseases kill 12 times more women than breast cancer every year -- 500,000 women compared with 40,000.

Stacy Innerst, Post-Gazette illustration

To educate women about this risk, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation has kicked off a campaign called "Working Hearts," an initiative for women to become advocates of their own heart health.

WTAE-TV anchor Sally Wiggin is spokeswoman for the campaign, a cause that's particularly important to her because at age 49, she's been diagnosed with heart disease. She's taking medication to control it and has had to limit her activities and make other lifestyle changes.

The foundation contributed $250,000 in seed money to get the initiative off the ground locally, but organizers hope to approach local corporations and eventually national health foundations to push the campaign nationally.

"Heart health is related to a host of other conditions and many of them are related to lifestyle, and this is something over which women have control," said Karen Feinstein, foundation executive director.

"We can't just sit and wait for the heart attack that may not get diagnosed, or the condition that may not get treated properly. We have an opportunity to be active in preventing it in the first place."

The first phase of Working Hearts is to spread the word about the prevalence of heart disease in women, a fact even the foundation didn't realize, said Nancy Zionts, senior program officer at the foundation.

When a heart attack survivor who had worked with the foundation on other causes asked it in 1999 to get involved in heart health, administrators weren't sure they were interested.

 
 
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For more information about Working Hearts, you can call the Jewish Healthcare Foundation at 412-594-2583. Working Hearts has a Web site www.workinghearts.org, and you can also e-mail questions or requests for information to workinghearts@jhf.org.

   
 

Then they learned the startling statistics. "We found ourselves to be surprised by the extent and impact of women's heart disease and the lack of attention to women's heart health issues and treatment in this community as well as the rest of the country," Zionts said.

Organizers looked to the Komen Race for the Cure as a model. In fact, the Working Hearts chairwoman, Patricia Siger, was one of the original leaders of the race event when it started here 10 years ago.

Like the Komen Foundation, Working Hearts has elicited the support of local women's groups representing 150,000 women.

In addition to sponsoring cooking classes, mall walks, health fairs and other events, the coalition will be spreading the word to restaurants, doctors' offices, paramedics, emergency workers and more.

Some of the seed money has gone to publication of 200,000 handy book marks with exercise, eating and stress-relief tips, as well as wallet-sized cards listing heart attack symptoms, questions to ask your doctor and tips for ordering food in a restaurant.

Central to Working Hearts is encouraging women to make healthy lifestyle changes.

"There's so much that we can do with Working Hearts in terms of making a difference," Siger said. "It's beginning at the grass roots level, but we're hoping to go up the ladder."

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