The Heart of the Matter Is the Matter of the Heart

Being aware of cardiovascular disease can save your life

By Kristen Penfield

Your heart. It works extremely hard every day without a break. Are you caring for it the way you should be? Most people are certainly aware of the basics of good heart health. We “try” to exercise (when work and life doesn’t get in the way), we eat healthy(ish), we don’t smoke…isn’t that enough? According to the American Heart Association, someone experiences a heart attack every 40 seconds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, killing nearly 610,000 people every year. They have my attention; what can we do?

We went straight to the experts to find out. Chris Fadden Schwarz, RN, BSN, a cardiac nurse at Upstate University Hospital since 1994, is an integral part of an amazing team with the division chief of cardiac surgery, Dr. G. Randall Green, and cardiac surgeon, Dr. Barry Esrig.

Upstate Medical University reported that in the most-recent state Health Department report on cardiac surgery outcomes, Dr. Green was one of only six surgeons in the state and the only one in Central New York with a risk-adjusted mortality rate significantly lower than the state average. Dr. Green (who is also a lawyer and has a master’s degree in business administration), and his team have a goal to create a high quality, high volume, highly efficient academic cardiac surgical program that supports Upstate’s education and research missions. Dr. Green is also an associate professor of surgery and co-director of the Upstate Heart Institute which is expanding cardiovascular services at Upstate University Hospital.

Fadden Schwarz said, “Eating healthy and exercise are extremely important to heart health, but hereditary factors are just as important. What’s more is that so many people ignore their symptoms. They ‘don’t have the time’ to see a doctor because of their busy lifestyles when that’s precisely what they should be doing,” she added. She was only five years old when she lost her father to a heart attack. He was only 40. Her father came from a large family; all of whom passed from a heart attack. Fadden Schwarz said, “This time of the year, we see an increase in heart issues. The colder temperatures constrict the vessels. People who unknowingly or knowingly have coronary heart disease can be in danger. We urge people to have a physical exam. This can lead to saving their lives, ultimately.”

Fadden Schwarz added, “We have seen people in top physical condition, athletes, marathon runners, etc., but they are not aware that they have coronary heart disease. The bottom line is you must know your numbers. HDL, LDL cholesterol levels, hypertension, blood pressure levels should be known. The key is to have an exam to detect any issues.”

“Some people learn that they have a type of cardiovascular disease and claim to be ‘unlucky’,” said Fadden Schwarz, “But the truth is that they are very lucky because it was detected in time.” Many people, especially women, ignore symptoms, blaming a big meal, or that they are simply too busy to get themselves seen by a doctor. The sooner, the better when it comes to heart health and maintenance.

To clarify, The American Heart Association tells us that cardiovascular disease is a class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease includes coronary artery diseases such as angina and heart attack. It also includes stroke, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, cardiomyopathy, heart arrhythimia, congenital heart disease, valvular heart disease, and more.

Coronary artery disease, which is a buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries that could lead to a heart attack has symptoms that can range from chest pains, indigestion or nausea, lightheadedness, fast heart rate, shortness of breath – or even no symptoms at all.

How can we take better care of our heart? Fadden Schwarz said, “Eating nutritious foods can reduce your blood and cholesterol levels and maintain your weight. Regular exercise, which also benefits your mental and physical wellness, avoid smoking and very importantly, visit your doctor regularly. They can provide more insight on ways to improve your heart health and be proactive in disease detection.”

Fadden Schwarz said, “I feel very fortunate because as a nurse, I appreciate what I do every day.” Since graduating from Binghamton University in 1989, and many years in open heart intensive care as well as pre and post operative care, Fadden Schwarz has helped so many people become more aware of the importance of heart health.

Be heart smart. Make an appointment with your doctor today. It can save your life.