Women's hearts are risky business

Wanda English Burnett - Editor

It had to be big to keep Carol Holzer from attending the Versailles Pumpkin Show for the first time ever in her life! “I could hear the festivities, but couldn’t attend,” she noted as she remembered the year she had a quadruple heart bypass the week before the fall event that draws thousands to her hometown of Versailles where she and husband, John, reside.

The only indication Holzer had that something was wrong was a pressure or heaviness in her shoulders and shoulder-blade area. “It was not a stabbing pain that ran down my arm,” she emphasized, knowing that’s what many people think would signal a heart attack. She simply had a heaviness that she couldn’t shake.

Holzer has walked all of her life and could feel this heaviness when she would be walking at the Versailles State Park in the Spring of 2002. She said one day after walking up a hill, she returned home and could barely breathe. That night she decided if she lived until the morning she would call her doctor. When she awoke, she knew it was time to act.

A call to the doctor and an EKG later, Holzer was well on her way to having open heart surgery. “You go straight to the hospital,” her doctor told her. She was put on monitors and later that day asked, “where do you want to have your surgery?”

It all happened very quickly and the good part of the story is Holzer never actually had a heart attack, alleviating damage. She did have four blockages that were quickly taken care of at the Columbus Regional Hospital. She was the eighth patient after the surgery center had opened in September of that year. A team from St. Frances Hospital, Indianapolis, came down to Columbus.

Holzer says she has made lifestyle changes to include reducing stress. “I believe stress is a big factor,” she noted. She agrees with advice from doctors that women should get ample exercise, eat fruits and vegetables, whole grain and high-fiber foods and not smoke. Like many women, Holzer realizes the everyday stress of work, family, numerous commitments that include committees and organizations in which she is very active. “Sometimes you just have to cut back on things you’re involved in,” she noted.

About a year after her surgery, Holzer was cast in several media commercials for the hospital. She was the picture of health as she posed with kindergarten age students on billboards, was published in newspapers and had television and radio spots. She is most comfortable surrounded by children having taught school for nearly 34 years, most all of that in the kindergarten room. She still teaches at South Ripley.

Guidelines for the heart disease risk among women have recently been updated and are now measured by the long-term view of heart disease prevention. “We took a long-term view of heart disease prevention because the lifetime risk of dying of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is nearly one in three for women. This underscores the importance of healthy lifestyles in women of all ages to reduce the long-term risk of heart and blood vessel diseases,” wrote Lori Mosca, M.D., Ph.D., director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is also the chair of the American Heart Association expert panel that wrote the guidelines.

The new guidelines recommend lifestyle factors such as physical activity, nutrition and smoking cessation, and more in-depth recommendations on drug treatments for blood pressure and cholesterol control.

Aspirin is highly recommended for women to take to prevent strokes, according to the new guidelines. Women are urged to ask their doctors about taking aspirin. Menopausal therapies such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) such as raloxifene or tamoxifene should not be used to prevent heart disease because they have been shown to be ineffective in protecting the heart and could increase the risk of stroke, according to Mosca. She continued, “The new guidelines reinforce that unregulated dietary supplements are not a method proven to prevent heart disease...folic acid is ineffective to protect the heart despite widespread use by patients and physicians hoping for a heart benefit.”

Statistics show that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the largest single cause of mortality among women, accounting for 38 percent of all female deaths.

The new study shows that “nearly all women are at risk for CVD, underscoring the importance of heart-healthy lifestyle in everyone. Some women are at significant risk of future heart attack or stroke because they already have CVD and/or multiple risk factors.” Now physicians are recommending more aggressive lifestyle changes to reduce risk in all women. Saying “medicine is still an art but these guidelines are meant to guide health care professionals on the best science available.” (See related article for guidelines)

Locally, a Spirit of Women (Day of Dance) event is scheduled for Saturday, February 24 at the Greensburg Elementary School from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The second annual Day of Dance for Cardiovascular Health is sponsored by the Decatur County Memorial Hospital and promotes women’s heart health.

Information from the hospital notes that 63 percent of women who die suddenly from coronary disease show no previous symptoms. Day of Dance is an opportunity for women to receive free preliminary health screenings, letting them know if they need to seek additional medical care. Call Amanda Wolsiffer for additional information on the event at 812-663-1389.

Also, the South Ripley Heartbeats Health Festival is set for March 3 from 8:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. at the South Ripley High School, 1589 S. Benham Road, Versailles. Blood chemistry will be available for $25.00 and PSA for $10.00. Call Nurse Mary Krumm for additional information at 812-689-5383. This is another excellent opportunity to obtain medical screenings for heart health.

Mrs. Carol Holzer, kindergarten teacher at South Ripley Elementary, pauses for a photo from her busy workday. She knows first hand the importance of following through when you feel like something is wrong with your body. She underwent a quadruple heart surgery after experiencing a "heaviness" in her shoulder blade area and calling her doctor. She has made a full recovery and is thankful for the opportunity to share her experience with others.

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