By Brenda Duran
For every minute that a women’s heart beats in the United States, another women’s heart will succumb to heart disease.
Heart disease is now considered the leading cause of death among women in the United States. Nearly five times as many women will die from a heart attack than breast cancer, according to the American Heart Association.
In the city of Long Beach, a community resource center wants to turn those statistics around. Memorial Care Center for Women’s Cardiac Health & Research at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center is targeting women of all ages to give them the tools and information about heart disease before it’s too late.
The heart center opened its doors in 2008 with initial funding coming from a local family who had lost a daughter at the age of 35 to heart disease. Today, the center sees about 400 women a year and has full-fledged support by Long Beach Memorial Hospital.
“There is no referral needed,” said Cindy Peters, who works as the main nurse practitioner at the center. “The best part is that women who don’t have insurance and cannot follow-up with a cardiologist can come back for a follow-up with us anytime.”
For a one-time fee of $55, any woman can walk into the center without a physician referral or health insurance and receive a comprehensive review of their cardiovascular health, which includes an EKG, a full lipid panel of their cholesterol HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels as well as their blood sugar. The screening also includes a 12-lead electrocardiogram, which provides enhanced images of the heart, and a meeting with the nurse practitioner to discuss family history and risk factors.
The low-cost of care allows any woman to get the attention she needs and it also allows the center to accomplish its main goal – educate the community, said Peters.
“A lot of women want to do health prevention, they want to start a new routine and they want to know what their baseline is,” said Peters. “We give them all of that information so they can take advantage of it and significantly reduce their risk of heart disease.”
Peters said in recent years she has seen an overwhelming number of women with weight issues. As many as 60 percent of the local women who come to the center are at risk for high blood pressure and hypertension the precursors to fatal heart disease.
“Counseling women on weight loss is one of our biggest issues,” said Peters.
The center has been looking to get younger women in for check-ups since there has been a steady rise in obesity particularly in younger woman, which puts them at risk for a long list of cardiovascular problems later in life.
In recent months, the center has devoted a lot of its attention to tracking the progress of one of their youngest patients, Paula Perez, 24, of Long Beach. At her young age, Perez is faced with numerous health obstacles. A few years ago, Perez’s mother passed away from cardiac arrest and her father passed away from stroke. Before she passed, Perez said her mother urged her to make her heart health a priority by going to the center.
A year ago, when Perez made her way to the center she weighed 360 pounds, her blood pressure was in the 200 range – well above normal. Peters immediately urged her to focus on weight loss to kick start her way back to health.
“It was a good experience,” said Perez. “I’ve gotten so much better since I went. I changed my complete lifestyle from eating to exercising.”
So far, Perez has lost 83 pounds and said she will be continuing her annual check-ups with the center to stay on track.
“It’s great to have younger women come in because there are a lot of misconceptions about heart disease,” said Peters. “A lot of women don’t think they are at risk.”
Peters noted that most physicians do not perform an EKG for any woman under 55 because it is not covered by insurance. Being able to offer women this procedure at the center has allowed for a more comprehensive exam for women of all ages to make changes earlier.
Manhattan Beach resident Kate Hellmers, 54, said like many women she didn’t give much thought to her heart health, even though people in her family have died from heart disease. Before a friend referred her to the center a year ago, she didn’t give much thought to how her family history of high cholesterol and heart problems could be affecting her.
“It was really interesting to see what the report would look like and what they would be able to tell me above and beyond what my regular doctor had told me,” said Hellmers.
After an extensive check-up with Peters, Hellmers learned she had an irregular heartbeat that could become a potential problem down the line. She took her results to her doctor and immediately began a new regimen to help her stay out of the trouble zone.
“They gave me specific questions to ask my regular doctor that no one has ever suggested before,” said Hellmers. “I had never seen an EKG graph and have someone explain it to me. The suggestions turned out to be very good. It is fantastic information.”
Hellmers added since her visit she has been able to get her cholesterol down by five points and has decided to make her regular visits to the center bringing along other women she knows.
“It’s fantastic information,” said Hellmers. “If women like me can get a grasp on this now and know I can check up on it without having to pay thousands of dollars its great.”