Yale News

With Valentine’s Day less than a week away, people across the country are coming together over matters of the heart: raising awareness and funds for cardiovascular disease.

Yale New Haven Health and the American Heart Association are attempting to raise $7,500 for cardiovascular research and education. To do so, they held the fifth annual New Haven “Go Red for Women” event on Thursday evening over Zoom. More than 12 women, including cardiologists and heart disease survivors, shared their experiences and research at the event. This year’s event was themed “The Beat Goes On: Rediscover the Rhythm in Your Life” and focused on the impact of COVID-19 on heart health in women.

“Heart disease is actually the number one killer of American women and has been for some time,” said Lisa Freed, director of the Women’s Heart and Vascular Program at Yale New Haven Hospital. “It’s been an ongoing struggle to educate women and to educate physicians [because] this is something that we have to take seriously.”

Freed was the chair of this year’s event. She told the News that one of the conference’s main goals is to educate women about the importance of heart health. Additionally, she said it is a great opportunity for women to form bonds, network and spend some time away from their stressful lives.

Freed said that for a long time, the medical community failed to recognize the growing problem of heart disease in women because women were often excluded from clinical trials. She added that the predominance of male cardiologists may have also contributed to the lack of attention given to these conditions. She said stresses compounding the risk for heart diseases have increased due to the pandemic, guiding her choice of this year’s theme. 

“Some [women] have lost their jobs, and some of them are trying to maintain their jobs while their children are at home doing homeschooling,” Freed said. “They’re trying to have Zoom calls all day long while their children are doing math on the computer next to them [so] the stresses have multiplied for women.” 

At the event, organizers raised funds through online donations and a silent auction of items including a delivery of two dozen oysters and a boat trip with the Fairfield Police Department. All money will go towards cardiovascular research and education in Connecticut.

Lovie Roscoe, a heart disease survivor, spoke at the event. She shared her experience receiving a heart transplant, after several years using a left ventricular assist device — a device that replaces the left ventricle and circulates oxygenated blood throughout the body. After the surgery, Roscoe spent three months in physical therapy and has used anti-rejection medicine to support her new heart since. These days, Roscoe volunteers daily at a hospital to encourage others suffering from heart disease.

“As women, we take on so much and want to take care of everyone else, but now is the time that we have to take care of ourselves,” Roscoe said. “Help save lives so that other women can enjoy every day with the people they love.”

Oyere Onuma MED ’07, a cardiologist at the School of Medicine, spoke to those in attendance about some of the difficulties associated with diagnosing women with heart disease. For example, incomplete research on the impacts of menopausal hormones on women’s cardiovascular health limits doctors’ understanding about when women are at the highest risks of these health complications, according to Onuma.

Onuma said women can protect their heart health by educating themselves, knowing the numbers related to their health and taking action through lifestyle changes and medication. She identified blood pressure, blood cholesterol, weight and BMI as some of the many numbers important to understanding one’s heart health. Onuma also said that social determinants of health including race, ethnicity, education level, zip code and income can increase the risk of heart disease.

“The disparities in care and outcomes that plague women are magnified for women of color and women of lower socioeconomic status,” Onuma said. “These disparities persist over time.”

The event concluded with a medical panel of women doctors who discussed the challenges of finding a work-life balance in the professional world. Panel members suggested that women manage stress by prioritizing heart-healthy exercise and using meditation apps such as Headspace.

Other speakers at the event included Francine LoRusso, vice president and executive director for heart and vascular services at YNHH, and Michelle Albert, who was inspired to enter the world of cardiology after the death of her grandfather.

This year’s event ran for an hour-and-a-half and offered three free optional post-event sessions, including one on meditation instruction and another on home exercise routines. 

Fundraising for the event ends at noon on Friday. Donations can be made by texting 41444 to GOREDNEWHAVEN.

Natalie Kainz | natalie.kainz@yale.edu

Aislinn Kinsella | aislinn.kinsella@yale.edu

Natalie Kainz currently serves as the Multimedia Managing Editor. Previously, she was the editor of YTV — the video desk of the Yale Daily News — and covered Yale and New Haven relations as a staff reporter. Originally from Hong Kong, she is a Junior in Silliman College majoring in Political Science and Anthropology.