By Kim Walter
WINCHESTER -- Over 100 women gathered Thursday morning to gain knowledge about taking care of their hearts, and not in the romantic sense.
The Conference Center at Winchester Medical Center was overflowing with colorful balloon hearts and cupcakes. Women socialized, danced and laughed with one another, but they also got a look into the experiences of local women who had a tie to heart health.
The Caring for Woman's Heart event created a forum for open discussion on how a woman can take care of herself. Several female physicians answered questions, while other speakers gave a first person testimony on how health -- or lack of it -- had impacted their lives.
Stephanie Dirckx, Executive Director of Heart and Vascular services for Valley Health, reminded women that to "care for a woman's heart, you must care for the whole woman."
Kim Campbell, former coronary care nurse and current head of CPR education at Valley Health, told her story.
"It's true, I worked in coronary care for a number of years," she said, all eyes on her. "But even though I was a nurse working in that department, I still had the denial that anything would happen to me."
Campbell said her cholesterol was never, and still isn't, an issue, but family history was working against her in terms of heart health. She said her father died at the age of 55 from sudden cardiac arrest after first having heart attacks and symptoms in his 30s.
Her grandmother also died at 55 of the same affliction. Campbell's mother and grandmother developed heart disease, but not until their 70s.
"I realized that whether I liked it or not, I had to start doing something, because I was positive that heart problems would happen to me at some point," she said. Campbell began seeing one of the top cardiologists with Valley Health, and joined Curves to try and get back into better physical shape.
She never had a problem, though, with pain, and she was never a smoker. Campbell said she wasn't one to stress much either.
The day before she turned 42, Campbell gave birth to a baby girl, which quickly put things into perspective.
"It became very clear to me that I needed to start taking better care of myself," she said. "I was a bit older than the typical mom, but I still wanted to be able to keep up with my daughter as she grew up."
Over the next few years, Campbell said she started getting a "full" feeling in her chest, like there wasn't enough room for her to take a full breath. She didn't get other heart disease symptoms, like nausea, dizziness or chest pain.
"The shortness of breath would come, but would go away once I was able to take a rest," she said.
Campbell started to realize that she needed to seek extra help when she would get sweaty and out of breath just walking into work each day.
"Something just wasn't right," she said. "These simple tasks became a chore for me."
One day, Campbell was called to the fifth floor at WMC for a patient, and once she arrived after running up a few flight of stairs, she said she had to sit down for fear of passing out.
"I kept wanting it to not be anything," she said.
She and her cardiologist decided to run a few tests, but the EKG and Stress Echo tests all came back "perfectly normal." However, after a "cardiac cath," she learned that one of her main arteries was only working at 90 percent.
Campbell had a stint implanted, which helped her for about a year, until symptoms returned. Blockage had occurred within the stint, so radiation therapy was done on it.
Again, it was a temporary fix, and Campbell was back to see her cardiologist just six months later. This time, the radiation had caused a "candy wrapper effect" on the stint.
At that point, her doctor suggested a bypass.
"I asked myself, 'How can this be me?'" she said. "I was only in my 40s, I didn't want to do something that huge."
However, after physician consultation, Campbell changed her attitude, largely due to wanting to be there for her daughter.
After the off pump surgery, Campbell was back on her feet in two days. That was in 2005, and while things have largely improved for Campbell's heart health, she still has things to keep in mind to ensure that she does the best she can.
"I still struggle with eating right, and the exercising, and my family history isn't going to change, unfortunately," she said. "But I'm trying to do my best with what I've been given. That's all you can do. But don't wait ... your heart is one thing that should always be taken seriously."
For more information on women's health, go to www.valleyhealthlink.com/SpiritofWomen.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org