Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, affecting more than 42 million women in the United States. With such high numbers, no one should feel isolated or alone — there is support and advice just a mouse-click away. The American Heart Association has launched the first women’s online patient support program for women to connect and support each other.
Go Red Heart Match, available at GoRedForWomen.org/HeartMatch, is a free and accessible 24/7 program for women to find the emotional support they need to survive a heart disease diagnosis, care for a loved one with heart disease or work to prevent heart disease.
Connect with other women who can relate
To participate, women create online profiles and search for other women with similar heart disease experiences. Go Red for Women facilitates the connection to build a one-on-one, supportive relationship. Some women schedule face-to-face meetings, while those from different parts of the country connect by phone or online through email, Facebook and other social media.
For two-time stroke survivor Shermane Winters-Wofford, her Heart Match reached out for encouragement to start living heart-healthy after a high blood pressure diagnosis. The two women now motivate each other to exercise and eat better. Winters-Wofford, of St. Louis, even emails medication reminders to her Heart Match, who lives in New Jersey.
“Women are the heart of the house, but what are we doing for ourselves and our bodies?” asks Winters-Wofford, a 41-year-old mother of three boys. “By talking to other women and finding your Heart Match, you can help each other find that balance. Maybe what they’re doing works for you, maybe what you’re doing works for them. It’s all in the connection.”
Heart disease survivors are mentors
Janine Krolikowski of Royal Oak, Michigan, suffered a heart attack in 2004 at age 46. Now she’s a mentor to two Heart Match participants, offering notes on the latest research, healthy recipes and risk-factor news. She says the program has helped her stay on target with her own diet and exercise.
“No matter who you are, heart disease comes with lots of questions and fears and anxieties,” she says. “Sometimes you need a little camaraderie from someone who’s been there.”
Doctor appointments go only so far
Women don’t simply want to face this battle “by appointment” in doctors’ offices and hospitals, says Dr. Mary Ann Bauman, program spokesperson and medical director for women’s health and community relations at INTEGRIS Health in Oklahoma City. “They want to talk to real people who’ve been down the same road. They want a community of other women who can relate to their fears, offer around-the-clock encouragement and share their own courageous stories.”
Cardiac rehab restores health and good habits
In addition to emotional support, Heart Match is designed to help motivate and encourage care after diagnosis – including cardiac rehabilitation. Research published recently in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association shows that cardiac rehabilitation/secondary prevention (CR/SP) reduces cardiovascular risk and event rates, fosters healthy behaviors and promotes active lifestyles. However, only a fraction of eligible patients participate in CR/SP: 14 to 35 percent of heart attack survivors and 31 percent of patients after coronary artery bypass surgery. The study also noted that female patients have lower participation rates than men and represent a specific high-risk group to be targeted for referral.
“Every single person who gains some benefit from the program is one less potential heart attack or stroke. That’s a big difference for our health practices, for our health care dollars and for the well-being of our patients,” Bauman says.