By Hayley Kappes
Killeen Daily Herald
As Sue Jane Dowell walked back to her car after church one Sunday in October 2005, something felt awry.
She'd noticed fluttering moments of chest pains the preceding days and paid no mind to them.
That Sunday, however, the pain didn't go away.
During the short drive home, she prayed for a safe arrival.
Her husband called 911 and Dowell was taken to Metroplex Hospital, where she went into cardiac arrest. She was taken to Scott & White Hospital in Temple, where doctors discovered she had 90 percent blockage in a heart artery.
Fortunately, Dowell's heart sustained no damage and she only required a stent, a tube that conducts blood flow.
Dowell had a history of heart disease in her family. At the time her heart attack occurred, she had high cholesterol and high blood pressure, but ignored all the warning signs.
"Having that heart attack showed me if you don't take care of your body by eating right and exercising, you're not going to live long," Dowell said. "All the fast food people consume these days, we're just not eating healthy the way we should."
Dowell was chosen to share her story in Scott & White's 2009 calendar benefitting its Women's Cardiovascular Health Clinic.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and strokes, is a lifelong affliction that kills more women than men. It's also five times as lethal as breast cancer, yet all too often goes undetected since many women aren't aware they are at risk.
Scott & White Hospital in Temple opened the Women's Cardiovascular Health Clinic last year and offers a free screening program called HeartAWARE, an online tool that shows a person's chances for developing cardiovascular disease.
If their risk factors are high enough, they're invited for a free clinical screening.
The clinic launched the calendar last year to increase awareness by sharing stories of 12 different women who have the disease. All the women were patients at Scott & White or were recommended. Dowell and four others are from Killeen.
"Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women," said Donna Dunn, marketing coordinator for the clinic. "We want to show women if you are diagnosed, there are lifestyle changes you can make to improve quality of life."
Risk factors contributing to cardiovascular disease include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. Some are predisposed to the disease if there is a family history of it. Improper diet and lack of exercise worsen the genetic predisposition.
Dr. Gregory Dehmer, director of Scott & White's cardiology division, said symptoms of cardio problems can be more subtle in women. Signs prior to a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath in exercise or at rest, nausea and a vague sensation of not feeling well.
"The importance of cardiovascular disease awareness for women is underappreciated," Dehmer said. "Putting a face to the disease through the calendar will hopefully increase awareness."
In 2005, 1 in 30 female deaths resulted from breast cancer, while 1 out of 6 women died of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Dehmer said those numbers are skewed because there have been more advances in cancer treatment, but the death rate of coronary heart disease has decreased in recent years.
Treatment options for cardiovascular disease include medications to control risk factors like high cholesterol.
If medication is not enough, options to increase blood flow in the arteries are taken, including the insertion of an arterial stent. Coronary bypass operations are considered for those with extensive problems in the blood vessels.
"I think the picture of someone having a heart attack that pops to mind is always a man clutching his chest," Dehmer said. "We're improving on the fact women too suffer from heart disease."
Contact Hayley Kappes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559.
For more information about the calendar, call Donna Dunn at (254) 724-6713 or go to http://heart.sw.org.