Lynne Wade doesn’t go out of her way to cover the 4-inch scar in the middle of her chest.
The 65-year-old Boisean refers to that scar as her “calling card” — a way for her to engage in conversations with other women about heart disease.
“People see it and say, ‘What happened?’ ” Wade said. “I see that (scar) as a gift now. I want people to know I survived heart surgery.”
Wade’s cardiologist recruited her to help educate and support women in the Treasure Valley who are confronting the disease.
The semiretired career/job consultant was a featured speaker at a Go Red for Women luncheon a little more than a year ago and last fall was selected to participate in an intensive four-day training offered by WomenHeart at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“She’s articulate and passionate about talking about heart health,” said cardiologist Beth Malasky, medical director for the Women’s Heart Care Program at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.
With the help of Women-Heart — the national coalition for women with heart disease — Wade is forming a group for women who have heart disease. She’ll be promoting it in February, which is American Heart Month, and the group’s first meeting will be March 6.
Malasky and others see heart disease education as a critical need.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for 25 percent annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 292,000 women died of heart disease in 2009, the last year statistics are available.
Studies show that women who suffer a heart attack are more likely to die than men suffering their first attack — and if they survive, women are more likely than men to have another attack.
WHY A CARDIAC GROUP JUST FOR WOMEN?
“We feel better about opening up in front of other women,” Wade said.
Adrean Cavener, director of government relations for the American Heart Association’s Boise office, said women have a tendency to ignore symptoms.
“They say, ‘Let me finish the dishes’ ... or ‘I’ll take the kids to soccer practice, then see how I feel,’ ” she said.
“I can’t tell you how many women I have in my office who apologize for coming in and seeing me,” Malasky said. “They don’t call an ambulance because they don’t want to make a fuss, be an inconvenience or make a scene. They don’t want to impose on anybody.”
Heart disease has touched Wade’s life in several very personal ways. Her husband, a lifelong smoker, died at 57 from congestive heart failure. His death was slow and painful, including more than two months in intensive care and then hospice.
“To see someone die inch by inch in front of you is hard,” she said.
About five years later, her 75-year-old mother died in her sleep from congestive heart failure.
“I don’t think she was ever diagnosed with it,” Wade said. She now can recall symptoms her mother had indicating heart disease, including swollen ankles.
Her own health slowly declined after those losses. Because she’d always been relatively healthy, she didn’t worry too much about her numbers — weight, blood pressure, cholesterol — creeping up.
Doctors had diagnosed a heart murmur when Wade was in her 20s, but it had never really been a problem.
In 2010, she noticed that she was having trouble breathing going up stairs. It got worse.
“I thought I was just out of shape and getting older. I didn’t tell anyone,” Wade said.
EXAM REVEALS SERIOUS PROBLEMS
An annual physical in January 2011 showed metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions (including overweight/obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol) that leads to heart disease. An echocardiogram showed that she had a leaky aortic valve.
Wade went to work on her health, dropping 18 pounds over four months. She took medications for high blood pressure and cholesterol.
She felt good.
But on July 4, Wade was leaving her boyfriend’s apartment after an upsetting conversation. When she got into her car, she began having unusual symptoms, including profuse sweating, nausea, light-headedness and shortness of breath.
“I thought it could have been a panic attack,” Wade said.
She realized that she was in no condition to drive, so she tried to return to the apartment for help. She collapsed and had to call for help.
Tests confirmed that she’d had a heart attack. Three weeks later, she had open-heart surgery. Her heart valve was replaced with a pig valve.
She hasn’t lost her sense of humor.
“I like to say, ‘Some little piggy saved my bacon,’ ” said Wade. “I have so much respect for pigs now.”
She was out of the hospital in nine days and did 36 weeks of outpatient cardiac rehabilitation.
RISKS, SYMPTOMS DIFFERENT IN WOMEN
The American Heart Association says the average age when women suffer an initial heart attack is 70; for men it’s 66.
Nearly two-thirds of women who die from a heart attack have no prior symptoms. Part of the reason could be women’s lack of awareness about the risks of heart disease and symptoms that are unique to females, advocates say.
“Women delay seeking care, and delays in care result in worse outcomes,” Malasky said.
She noted, too, that the spectrum of disease affecting women’s hearts goes beyond blocked arteries.
Women with small-vessel disease or cellular dysfunction of the arteries have similar rates of heart attack and death as do women with blocked arteries, Malasky said.
Studies have shown that risk factors for heart disease in women are different than in men. For example, diabetes doubles men’s risk of heart disease, but it increases women’s risk four- or five-fold, Malasky said.
Women also have unique risk factors.
“We recently learned that multiple miscarriages, pre-term labor, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia impart a significant increase in risk for developing heart disease 15 years later,” Malasky said.
Risks also increase for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Women who have heart attacks in their 30s and 40s have a much higher mortality rate than their male peers. It’s not clear why.
“It’s something under much study,” Malasky said.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413