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The Impact of Heart Disease on Women

Credit Sheila Brummer
Cath Lab at MercyOne
Credit Sheila Brummer
Cardiac Department at MercyOne

February is heart month and heart disease is the number one killer in the United States.  But, it's even more of a threat for women. 

“ I think the purpose of me saying anything, is that women pay attention to your body.”

Marlene Ebert thought she suffered from a fairly common medical condition.

“Well I didn’t know what was happening.  I guess I was too busy. I just think I was having heartburn.”  

The 64-year-old from Milford, Iowa dealt with the inconvenience for a few years.

"I had it the same time, always at night.  I ate Tums like crazy.  I would get up and walk for a half an hour.  The pain would go away and I could go to sleep.”

Marlene’s own daughter, Holly Prouty works as a supervisor of non-invasive cardiology at MercyOne, and didn’t realize the risk at first.

“Did you think this is something that would happen to your mom?”

“It didn’t match up to what we hear about heart disease.  She had to tell me a couple of times before I said we need go see a cardiologist.”

“I ignored it for a long time.  I think being a woman and you know you’re always thinking it’s just nothing.  You’ll go to the doctor and they will say there is nothing wrong with you,” said Marlene Ebert. 

But, there was something very much wrong with Marlene.  

“I had four blockages in the blood vessels to my heart.”

Marlene is one of the lucky ones. The American Heart Association says 64% of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease show no previous symptoms.

“Normally men people have chest pressure and pain that’s a typical sign of a heart attack that’s not the same for women.”

That’s the new head of cardiology at MercyOne in Sioux City.

"My name is Doctor Stilianos Efstratiadis.  Everyone calls me Doctor E for easy."

Dr. E says women show a-typical symptoms; like shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness and feeling dizzy.

“It’s more difficult to recognize and more difficult to know that something is going on.  ‘Is it the weather?  I am just having a bad day? Or, am I just too busy?’  But, you might have a tight blockage.”

Marlene underwent open heart surgery in July of last year to open her blockage; a triple bypass saved her life.

“What did the doctors say later about how serious it was?”

“A lot of those things I wouldn’t understand the terminology and what they do.  What amazes me they can take your heart that is only big as your fist.  I can’t image how small those vessels are.  The ones that are plugged there they leave there and they took three from my leg.”

Dr. E says prevention goes a long way in reducing the risk of cardiovascular issues.

“I wouldn’t recommend fried foods.  I would recommend salads, vegetables, physical activities, fruits.  avoid fat foods, red meat.  You could have choice of turkey and choice fish instead.  Don’t over eat."  

But, reaching a healthier lifestyle isn’t that simple for some.

"You don’t have to say I’ll lose 40 pounds in a month or things that are unreasonable. Just start with five  pounds of weight loss is huge for your blood pressure.  You will have lower chloesteral and can lower your blood pressure and risk of heart attack."

Nationally, one woman dies every minute from heart disease.  The American Heart Association reports one woman out of 31 dies from breast cancer.  Heart disease kills one out of three.

“Women have a lot of tasks to take care of.  They have a busier life than man and the symptoms aren’t as revealing.”

Dr. E says an important lady in his life inspired his career in cardiology.

“I grew up with my grandma, so my grandma had heart disease. She told me when I grow up she wanted me to be a cardialogist so I could save her life.  Poor grandma died when I was going to medical school.”

Marlene also lost her mother 30-years ago at the age of 68 from a massive heart attack.  Facing her own mortality, gave her a deeper appreciation for the loved ones in her life.

“After this they are my world.  They always have been.”

Credit Sheila Brummer
Heart disease survivor Marlene Ebert and her daughter Holly Prouty