GETTING across the message that every hour a woman in Australia dies of heart disease, so every day 24 lives will be lost, is a top priority for Dr Linda Worrall-Carter who has formed non-profit organisation, Her Heart.
With a background in nursing, teaching and research, the Warrandyte resident has become an expert in women’s heart health and is a leading authority in Australia on cardiovascular disease in women.
CHERIE MOSELEN spoke with Dr Worrall-Carter about her big new endeavour.
Q. Cherie M: I understand you gave up a professorial role at St Vincent’s Hospital to start this new organisation?
A. Dr Worrall-Carter: Yes, it was a big decision for me, but I felt I really needed to do it. Most people don’t realise heart disease is the single biggest killer of women in Australia. I’ve carried out research in this field for almost 15 years and have learnt women mostly believe two things: that breast cancer is more likely to kill them than heart disease and that men need to worry more about heart problems than women. I want to change these misconceptions and provide resources for women to reduce their risks, because heart disease actually kills more women in Australia than all cancers combined. But the good news is, 80% of heart disease in women is preventable.
Q: Why then, are so many women dying from it?
A: Heart disease is simply not on women’s radar. I’ve published exten- sively and spoken at forums about this silent killer for years and it’s become clear to me – we don’t need more research but strong national campaigns to raise better awareness.
Women are still shamefully under-represented in research studies and poorer treatment outcomes make them 38% more likely to die in the year following a cardiac event.
I have a family history of heart disease and I’m a mum of two teenage daughters, so I’ve been urging my own family to be proactive about their risk. But when a friend said, “it’s all well and good that you have this knowledge, but most women don’t”, I realised more could be done.
That’s why I started Her Heart.
Q: What are Her Heart’s objectives?
A: Her Heart aims to offer educational programs, activities and events, also to advocate for national action on women and heart disease. It will reach out to women using social media and selected print, radio and television media.
Nothing like it currently exists in Australia – an organisation solely focused on raising awareness of the prevalence, risk factors and symptoms of heart disease in women.
Today, more than 90% of women in Australia have at least one risk factor for heart disease, as many as 50% have two or more. Meanwhile, it’s estimated the number of women over 65 in Australia will more than double in the next decade, so women need this information now more than ever.
Q: Pink ribbons are the hallmark we associate with breast cancer advocacy. How will we know its Her Heart?
A: Around the world, the universal colour for Heart Disease is red and the logos often (but not always) include hearts. Our branding supports both and has a beautiful red heart. We support the international Go Red for Women campaign (also supported by The Heart Foundation), which is known by its red dress.
Q: How will you fund the organisation?
A: Through my professional and research collaborations, I’ve developed extensive international links and affiliations, so I anticipate sourcing a variety of funding by way of government submissions and philanthropic avenues.
In 2014, I was invited to act as a program leader for the World Heart Federation and Congress of Cardiology with over 8000 delegates and have since been collaborating with Professor Noel Bairey-Merz and her ambassador Barbara Streisand from the US, who have a strong Women and Heart Disease campaign. All these connections will be extremely helpful as the organisation moves forward.
Q: What steps have you taken so far, in getting your message out there?
A: A Her Heart website was the obvious place to start (with links to other social media platforms), because women are strong social media users.
However, people tend to suffer
from information overload these days, so I’ve taken care in making the site accessible. Rather than heavy, medical language, it’s filled with easy-to-read articles, videos and user-friendly tools to calculate risk factors.
Most importantly, it focuses on just three key messages around women and heart disease: Know the signs and your risk. Change your lifestyle, if needed. Maintain your wellbeing.
Google analytics showed that people from 50 countries accessed the website in the first three weeks and in 25 of those countries, visitors spent more than four minutes exploring its content. I’m told that’s really good going for a new website, so I’m thrilled!
Q: If you could say one thing to emphasise your message about women and hear t disease, it would be…?
A: On the website, I talk about how important it is to connect, recharge and unplug. Women tend to leave themselves last. Unfortunately, that can be fatal. So, I would say: spend some time prioritising ‘me’.
For more information, visit the website: www.herheart.org.au