It was a sea of red as hundreds of Northwell Health staff members gathered together for the annual “Go Red for Women” celebration.
In honor of American Heart Month, the Katz Institute for Women’s Health sponsored the joyous event, featuring special guest speakers, a wellness fair, dance troupe, and a special appearance by Beats & Eats by DJ CHEF, the “only entertainer who simultaneously cooks and DJs for events worldwide!”
First to speak was Adam Auerbach, MD, medical director of Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital. After brief introductory remarks, he emphasized the health system’s gratitude to Ms. Bass, “without whom the dream of a beautiful heart hospital would not have been possible.”
Stacey Rosen, MD, who serves as vice president of Women’s Health, also expressed her gratitude to Ms. Bass, and then urged women to heed the warning signs of illness before it’s too late. Dr. Rosen has been on the forefront of urging women to take care for their own health, along with the needs of their families.
“We live in a time when science understands that the symptoms of heart attack are different in women,” said Dr. Rosen. “One of our missions at the Katz Women’s Hospital is to encourage women to consider themselves first. We can’t take care of our families if we’re not taking care of our own health.”
Echoing that sentiment was Evelina Grayver, director of the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) at North Shore University Hospital. For her, the key to good health comes from knowing the signs of illness and working hard to prevent future medical problems.
“I see patients on the fourth floor when they’re already in the Critical Care Unit, and on the first floor when they come to me for routine check-ups,” Dr. Grayver said. “I often think about how much better it would be if people would make a point to see me on the first floor, so I don’t have to see them in the CCU later on.”
Kathy Khodadadi couldn’t agree more. An employee of the health system, Kathy shared her story of prevention with the audience. Last year, during a health presentation at Northwell, Ms. Khodadadi realized that she might be at risk for heart issues because she didn’t take time for herself. “I rarely took any of my prescribed medications on a regular basis, or made time to exercise,” she said. “I was the last on the list.”
This realization brought her to Dr. Grayver; follow-up tests revealed the presence of blockages. Luckily, no stents or surgery were required, but the news served as a wake-up call to action.
“Now, I exercise regularly and watch my diet,” she said. “For me, the key to getting healthy was to really want to make changes. I’m leading a much healthier life now.”
Finally, the audience heard from Yvonne Fleming, the first patient to undergo heart transplantation surgery at NSUH. The day was especially meaningful for Ms. Fleming, who is looking forward to celebrating her first anniversary with her new heart on February 19th.
Recalling the night of her transplant, Ms. Fleming said that she knew she was in the best of hands. “I remembering telling my surgeon, Dr. Brian Lima, just before what turned out to be a three-hour surgery that I promised to do my part, and all he had to do was his part,” she said. “I knew it would turn out just fine.”
One week later, Ms. Fleming took a triumphant first walk from her hospital bed to the nurses’ station. She reported that those few steps “were the proudest moments of my life.”
These days, Ms. Fleming is back to her favorite activities—dancing, enjoying friends and family, and speaking about the power of hope. “In just a few days, I’m going to celebrate my first anniversary with this new heart of mine,” Ms. Fleming said. “I do everything I can to honor this heart…I feel very blessed.”
It should be remembered that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. But, as all three doctors pointed out during the event, fully eighty percent of heart disease risk is preventable.
As Dr. Grayver stated, “Build a strong relationship with your doctor---and with yourself. Just remember---it’s time to take care of me.”