The dawn of American Heart Month offers an opportunity for all women to learn about their No. 1 health risk – heart disease – and how to manage their heart health.
It also is an occasion for the 6.5 million American women who are living with heart disease to learn about patient support services and educational resources available to them.
WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease offers a variety of support services and educational programs for women heart patients, ranging from our patient education webinars to our local peer-led Support Network meetings.
One program I am particularly enthusiastic about is SisterMatch. It is a peer-to-peer support opportunity for women living with heart disease where we connect them with a trained WomenHeart Champion volunteer, who also is a heart disease survivor and who provides support over the phone, via email, and/or in person. SisterMatch is free and available to all women living with heart disease.
Studies indicate that women are more vulnerable to depression and feelings of social isolation than men following a heart attack or heart disease diagnosis. In turn, women heart patients who are struggling with depression have difficulty adhering to their medications and taking other steps to manage their disease, which leads to worse outcomes than men.
Women heart patients who participate in SisterMatch are paired with a WomenHeart Champion who best fits the responses they provide to the SisterMatch questionnaire. Through this peer connection with a WomenHeart Champion who has a similar diagnosis and similar life experiences, women learn to deal with new thoughts and feelings they did not have prior to their diagnosis. As they start healing emotionally, they also become empowered to manage their heart disease.
Many women heart patients who participate in SisterMatch have told me that, until they found the program, they were convinced they would never live a normal life again. But SisterMatch changed that by giving them the emotional and psychosocial support they needed to recover.
WJLA-TV (Washington, D.C.) reporter Jennifer Donelan, who is a heart disease survivor and our SisterMatch spokesperson, once said: “As difficult as the physical part of my heart attack was, I was not prepared for the emotional and psychological tsunami that would follow. And that is when WomenHeart and SisterMatch came into the picture and saved my life for the second time.”
If you are a woman living with heart disease, I encourage you to visit SisterMatch and complete the questionnaire.
I also invite you to visit www.womenheart.org to learn about our other patient support services and educational programs, all of which are free so that all women living with heart disease can live well and thrive despite their heart disease diagnosis.