A Spotlight On Women in Heart Health
This #InternationalWomensDay we are shining a light on the amazing women doing their part to reduce the rate of heart disease in women. Some you might know, and others do their work behind the scenes. These women inspire us on #IWD19 and every day! Read more about their impact in their stories below.
Dr Sonya Burgess is paving her way in what is traditionally a man’s world; making her name as one of only 4.8% of female interventional cardiologists in this discipline of cardiology. Interventional Cardiology, as a branch of medicine, specialises in the treatment of unblocking coronary arteries for sufferers of heart disease. However, researchers are calling for more diversity within the profession to improve outcomes for women. Speaking to the University of New South Wales, Dr Burgess explained, “I started my cardiology training in 2007 in New Zealand: the country that first gave women the vote, yet also a country that now has had more female prime ministers than female interventional cardiologists,”.
Dr Burgess co-founded the social network strategy group, WiiCAN, to support and provide a voice to female cardiology trainees and reduce isolation in the male-dominated profession. In a nutshell, the aim of this group and Dr Burgess’ advocacy is “to give all trainees a sense of belonging, and make sure they know that they could become successful leaders – in short, we need to actively facilitate change”.
Australia’s resident Instagram comedy queen, Celeste Barber, has used comedy to not only celebrate body image, but to also cope and recover from a cardiac event. A little-known fact is that she is a survivor of open-heart surgery. Celeste recently opened up to InStyle magazine, discussing how as a 25 year old, a procedure to repair a hole in her heart resulted in emergency open-heart surgery. Celeste explained that “…the recovery was like nothing else – they literally pulled at my heartstrings. The idea that my heart had been cut open…really got to me”. She elaborated further, stating that comedy helped her cope, “I say something funny and inappropriate to make the awkwardness go away
Now, we could write her story, however Charis explains much better than we can. In her own words…
“Working in the area of cardiology as a cardiac nurse for 18+ has been a dynamic professional experience. I have been able to work in many areas of cardiology, including the acute setting and community as well as in London and Melbourne. Adding to my experience, in the past 18 months I have had the privilege of visiting Timor on two trips with the East Timor Hearts Fund as part of a team to screen for rheumatic heart disease among adults and kids. Additionally, I now spend my ‘spare time’ doing postgraduate nutrition and public health courses which have sought to diversify my skills and also bring new perspective to my cardiac nursing.
In heart failure, which is now my primary area of specialty, poor micro and macro nutrient intake can compound the disease process and this is an area of interest going forward. Cardiology is a vibrant area of nursing to be involved in. I feel extremely privileged to have been able to work with people over the years from whom I have sought to learn much.”
Arguably one of the most well-known and successful entertainers of all time, Barbra Streisand’s success cannot just be measured by her award wins, or her Presidential Medal of Freedom. Barbra is also a champion of gender equality for women’s health through both the hospital setting and advocacy work. She established the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre and the prevention and policy advocacy group, Women’s Heart Alliance. Streisand says, “…if we focus people’s minds on the battle for women’s hearts, then, together, we can save women’s lives”. Streisand argues that heart disease is managed as a man’s condition. She promotes initiatives such as encouraging women to have heart checks, improving access and care quality for women, researching heart disease sex differences, and helping health professionals have an improved understanding of women’s cardiac health.
At the age of 21, Miranda Hill’s life changed. Her unexpected weight gain, breathlessness and fluid retention were put down to a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, all because of a rare genetic problem. Through the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Miranda was able to work with a specialist in family heart disease to manage her condition, before a donor heart became available for a transplant.
Not only did Miranda face the challenges of living with heart disease, such as taking medication and following appropriate nutritional intake, she also had to deal with the reality that many milestones and goals were now out of reach. Given how dangerous giving birth was for Miranda’s condition, her and her husband were fortunate to find a surrogate so she could become a mother to baby Harry. However, when Harry was around 3 months of age Miranda became so unwell that a transplant was critical; at age 32 in 2015 she received a donor heart. As of 2017, Miranda is now able to do the simple things most people take for granted, such as going shopping or kicking a soccer ball with her son.