By Karen Taraska-Alcock
On Jan. 21, 2000, Susan Barbara Lemmerick died prematurely. Like millions of women in Manitoba and around the world, her obituary read that she “passed away suddenly” at home. Her family would later learn that Susan died of women’s heart disease.
“My mother’s fatality was a shock,” said Gail Loewen, one of Susan’s seven surviving children, Winnipeg community volunteer and philanthropist. “Had we known more about the unique nature of women’s heart disease, those of us closest to her might have been better armed to notice, help and encourage her to better health.”
Women’s situation ignored
For generations, heart disease had been characterized as a “man’s disease”, and investments in medical research focused almost exclusively on men. Women-specific signs and symptoms were overlooked, misdiagnosed and under-treated by medical professionals, and dismissed or ignored by women. The result – countless unnecessary deaths and disabilities – including Susan’s. According to the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre, 54 per cent of all heart attacks in women still go unrecognized today.
We now know that women’s heart disease is the most significant health threat facing women today. It kills one in three women every year, more women than men, and twice as many women than all cancers combined. Forty-two per cent of women die one year after their first attack versus 24 per cent of men, and 46 per cent become disabled with heart failure. Recent research has also identified that women’s hearts are different, and that there are important differences in the way women experience heart disease.
With a majority of women now in their “heart and stroke prone years”, Gail is passionate about ensuring that women have the life-saving information they need to prevent and overcome heart disease. She recently agreed to chair the Victoria General Hospital Foundation’s $1 million community fundraising campaign For Her Heart’s Sake.
“We lost Mom too early in her life,” says Gail. “Mom would have welcomed and championed this project, and I am proud to have the opportunity to do this in her memory and her great name.”
For Her Heart’s Sake will invest in three urgent health care initiatives, including a community awareness campaign to engage, educate and empower women and others to prevent and reduce heart disease. A first step cardiac care program for women will provide urgent treatment to survivors of life-threatening cardiac events who have previously been unable to receive treatment, and a three-year clinical research study will generate new, gender-specific and ground-breaking research to transform future diagnoses and treatment of women’s heart disease.
For Her Heart’s Sake will be funded exclusively through private donations. The campaign has raised $300,000 to date, and is counting on the generosity of individuals, local businesses and organizations to reach its goal.
An urgent appeal
“Working together in our shared community and beyond to support For Her Heart’s Sake has never been more important. This health threat is real and the $1 million is a necessity. We must stop heart disease from killing the women we love – our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and friends – making our families and communities healthier and stronger!”
*For more information on For Her Heart’s Sake, as well as signs, symptoms and survival tips to prevent women’s heart disease, please see the insert in today’s edition of Lifestyles 55.”
Karen Taraska-Alcock is the owner of Hire Marketing and Marketing Lead for the Victoria General Hospital Foundation For Her Heart’s Sake campaign.