ALBANY The women who roamed the hallways of the Albany Marriott were thinking about a lot of things: the manicures being done one room over; that woman down the aisle with the great hat; their table seating; when dinner would be served.
Ellis Medicine’s annual Women’s Night Out event also inspires a lot of heavy thoughts. These very women had survived breast cancer, heart disease and other close calls. And if they hadn’t, it was hard not to think about the friends and family who had.
Dr. Andi Nawab was thinking about a few close calls that could have been prevented.
On Jan. 1, she will lead a new heart health program at Bellevue Woman’s Center that is the only of its kind in the region, and could have helped a patient she saw just five days ago who didn’t know that the indigestion she was feeling was actually a heart attack.
“’Doc,’ she said, 'I have this indigestion that comes up into my chest for almost a week. It feels like a brick in my chest. And I am so fatigued and tired,’” recalled Nawab. “She had seen her primary care physician two weeks earlier.”
The woman had a heart attack and didn’t know it for two weeks. As a cardiologist, Nawab has seen the same case time and time again. It’s why she feels so passionate about the new cardiac screening program that Ellis announced at the 19th annual Women’s Night Out and appointed her to direct.
Starting in 2013, when a woman walks into Bellevue for her annual mammogram she can also get her heart screened before walking out — a family history, BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, risk factor assessment and an EKG will all be taken.
“The mammogram is the best time to do this,” said Nawab. “Women are so tuned into getting mammograms and their bone density and that type of thing. Now, they are going to hear about heart screening.”
Too many women are simply unaware of the risks of heart disease, she said.
It’s a disease often associated with not just men, but older men. Most national health campaigns directed at women focus on breast cancer, even though heart disease kills five times as many women as breast cancer. In addition, she said, women get caught up in taking care of everybody around them that their own health tends to fall by the wayside.
“There’s these staggering statistics out there on women and heart disease,” said Nawab. “Yet we’re not aware of the risks. We’re so tuned into having mammograms and bone density scans, but when was the last time a woman went in for a heart screening? It’s not on her radar.”
A way to help
Neil Golub was thinking about a few close calls, himself. In particular, he couldn’t help but think of one woman who complained of her unusual exhaustion to doctors for seven months. It took a fourth doctor to realize she had heart issues.
“By the time they got her to the hospital, only 10 percent of her heart was working,” recalled Golub. “She’s back to 40 percent now, because they finally discovered what was wrong.”
It just wasn’t on their radar. And that lack of awareness is why Golub first brought up the idea for a cardiac screening program to Ellis officials.
The local philanthropist had been eating dinner with fellow Union College board members six months ago when the cardiothoracic surgeon sitting next to him cited a statistic that stunned him. The surgeon and fellow alum, Dr. Kathy Magliato, told him that more than 40 percent of the women who arrive at emergency rooms from their first heart attack arrive dead.
“I said, 'Wow, really?’” said Golub. “And she went on to reiterate that women are vastly under served when it comes to heart health. Doctors don’t treat them the same way. If a guy gets a chest pain the family rushes them off to the emergency room. If a woman gets a chest pain, very often they don’t go anywhere, or are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed.”
Magliato was honored Thursday night with the Jane Golub Leadership in Women’s Health Award for her work in women’s heart health. She’s one of few female cardiothoracic surgeons in the country, and has developed several similar cardiac screening programs for women.
Once Ellis officials heard more about the work she’d done and agreed to move forward with a program, Golub was more than happy to help finance it.
“Women’s heart health fits in beautifully with what Bellevue is all about,” he said Thursday. “This has all come together within six months. All the pieces fell into place very quickly.”
State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah even called him up with questions about the program and the concept behind it.
“He thinks we’re onto something,” said Golub.
Ellis officials said they expect about 2,600 women to get their heart screened in the program’s first year.
Women’s Night Out wrapped up Thursday night with a speech by E! News anchor Giuliana Rancic. A crowded banquet hall cheered her on as she took the stage to talk about women’s health and her own battle with breast cancer. Proceeds from the event support the Bellevue Woman’s Center.