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Champions for Women's Heart Health

May 09, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Women who receive inpatient cardiac care at The University of Kansas Health System's Center for Advanced Heart Care have access to some of the nation's best cardiologists, surgeons and, it turns out, a fellowship of female patients.

They're called WomenHeart Champions, and they're a part of a national support group devoted to educating women about heart disease, including advice about early detection, accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. Since its formation in 1999, WomenHeart has expanded to 110 hospitals around the country in 40 states. More than 700 of those women have undergone special training in Minnesota, earning the WomenHeart Champion status.

At The University of Kansas Health System, the 7 WomenHeart Champions – all of them heart disease patients themselves – meet with 30 to 40 patients per month in their hospital rooms. They don't give medical advice but instead offer support and guidance.

Conversation topics range from medication compliance to surgical scars, from the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation to the importance of heart-healthy eating.

The WomenHeart Champions also listen. Many of the patients are new to heart disease – they're terrified, lonely and uncertain of their fates. Others are fearful how a heart defibrillator or ventricular assist device will impact their lives.

"They need to talk about it," said Velda McMorris, one of the WomenHeart Champions. "Sometimes I tell a patient, 'I'll just be here a minute,' and they say, 'Oh no, pull up a chair.'"

McMorris and other WomenHeart Champions also offer hope. They've had heart attacks and received cardiac implants. They not only survived but are living proof the patients and their families likely can look forward to brighter days.

Marilyn Battey, one of the newest WomenHeart Champions at the health system, tells patients about her own brush with death: Just 2 years ago, physicians at The University of Kansas Health System found 5 major blockages in her heart.

"They're scared and in shock, but when I tell them about my heart incident they get a sense of relief," Battery said. "They say, 'If that can happen to you, and you look fine now, then I have hope too.'"

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