WomenHeart: A support and advocacy group for women with heart disease




Did you know?

WomenHeart holds monthly meetings from 7 - 8:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital, Room B; and from noon to 1:30 p.m. every third Friday at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, Education Bldg. Room 7. The events are free to all women. Learn more at WomenHeart.

photoB.J. Babcock, left, and Leslea Steffel-Dennis, coordinators for WomenHeart in Clark County.

WomenHeart is a national nonprofit organization founded by three women who suffered heart attacks in their 40s.

They didn’t know each other, lived in different parts of the U.S. and were brought together by a magazine interested in writing an article about women’s heart disease — particularly its impact on young women survivors.

What they discovered and shared during their meeting was the lack of understanding, misdiagnosis and misconception by medical practitioners. Women exhibit different signs of heart disease than men, yet practitioners were often providing the same treatment or dismissing women’s anguish about heart attack as something unrelated.

In March 1999, the three women set about becoming advocates for women of all ages, survivors and those at risk of heart disease.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women of all ages. One in 2.5 women will die of heart disease, more than will die of breast cancer, diabetes and accidents, combined. Every woman should be aware of the the risk factors for heart disease:

• Heredity: mother, father, grandparents, siblings.

• Smoking or years of secondhand smoke.

• Obesity: waist circumference of more than 35 inches, 10 or more pounds overweight, body mass of more than 25.

• Diabetes, all types.

• Cholesterol levels: a total of more than 200 (simple blood test).

• High LDL (bad); low HDL (good), tryglyceride levels, fasting glucose levels.

• Stress, ongoing and significant from all sources.

• Lack of aerobic exercise: at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week.

• Unhealthy diet and lack of heart-healthy diet information.

• Not knowing symptoms of heart distress and heart attack.

• High-risk pregnancy,

• Denial: the biggest killer of women who won’t acknowledge symptoms.

What sets WomenHeart apart from other notable, heart-dedicated advocacy organizations is that it’s solely for women whose lives are compromised by heart disease. Current membership is more than 40,000, with chapters growing beyond the U.S. While headquartered in Washington D.C., it is led by local community volunteers.

In Clark County, WomenHeart works within our community through monthly support meetings, presentations and health fairs in collaboration with Vancouver clinics and community organizations.

Ridgefield resident B.J. Babcock, a woman born with a congenital heart defect, is local coordinator. She works with co-coordinator and Felida resident Leslea Steffel-Dennis, a senior citizen who became a heart disease survivor in 2010. Each year, through in-depth application and physician referrals, WomenHeart selects 45-50 women nationwide to attend a four-day symposium at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Attendees learn cutting—edge women’s heart health information, presented by Mayo’s foremost female cardiologists and other heart health professionals. Babcock was selected in 2009, and Steffel-Dennis attended in 2011. In 2011, B.J. became regional (Northwest states) director. Next spring, a four-day seminar for symposium graduates will be held in D.C. to continue their education.

Contact B.J. Babcock at 360-887-4694 or bbabcock.52@gmail.com and Leslea Steffel-Dennis at 360-597-3061 or lsdheart@gmail.com.