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Published on November 02, 2016

A Call for Greater Awareness of Heart Disease in Women

Female patients who have benefitted from heart procedures at Cone Health share their stories to raise awareness of heart disease in women.

Every month, a group of female heart patients gathers at The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital. The support group’s official name is WomenHeart of Cone Health. But around the hospital, you’ll often hear the members referred to as “heart sisters”—a nickname that reflects the warm, caring connection that binds the women.

In addition to supporting one another, the group’s members work to spread the word about the dangers of heart disease in women.

“A lot of the women, like myself, were dealt a life-changing event by heart disease. We are all heart survivors, and we’re all in it for the fight,” says Martha Jumpiere, who helps lead the support group meetings.

Jumpiere and her co-leaders—Tonya Moore, Janet Bliden, Kristie Yoder and Tammy Hardin—received in-depth training in peer support and community education from WomenHeart, a national coalition of women with heart disease. As a result, they proudly bear the title of WomenHeart Champions. Just as importantly, however, they know what it’s like to have heart disease—because they live with it every day.

Discussing heart disease in women on the national stage

Martha Jumpiere

Martha Jumpiere

In September, Jumpiere, Moore and Hardin joined 50 WomenHeart Champions from across the country at a Making Health Care Better event in Washington, D.C., which was sponsored by the White House. The event, which focused on cardiovascular care and research, offered an opportunity to hear from some of the best and brightest minds in the field.

In addition to the main meeting, Moore participated in a clinical trials workshop for key opinion leaders.

“While there has been a lot of progress,” she says, “there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure that women are heard.”

One thing Moore and Jumpiere know well is that heart disease in women differs from person to person. Yet many of their stories have a common thread: a lack of awareness, which sometimes leads to critical delays in receiving care.

Moore was only 37 when she experienced a bout of sharp pain below her ribcage. Her problem was initially misdiagnosed as a gallbladder attack at an emergency room at another hospital.

Stories of heart disease in women

Tonya Moore

Tonya Moore

“Six months later, I found out that I had actually experienced a massive heart attack, and that my left coronary artery was 100 percent blocked,” Moore says.

In the intervening months, her heart had suffered significant damage.

Jumpiere, in contrast, ignored warning signs because she didn’t believe there was anything urgently wrong.

“I was director of admissions at a college,” she says. “I didn’t have time to be sick. Besides, I wasn’t overweight, I worked out and I ate right.”

Jumpiere blamed her symptoms, such as palpitations and dizziness, on anxiety. By the time she was diagnosed with heart failure and a leaky heart valve, her condition had deteriorated.

Thriving through mutual support

Today, Moore and Jumpiere are battling back against heart disease. Moore has a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a mechanical pump implanted in her chest, to help her weakened heart do its job. (Read about Moore’s experience as an LVAD patient at Cone Health.) Jumpiere had a cardioverter defibrillator implanted, which delivers electric shocks if life-threatening heart rhythms occur.

Both women are committed to raising awareness that heart disease in women is a major health issue.

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘You don’t look like you have a serious heart problem,’” Jumpiere says. “And I’ll say, ‘What does heart disease look like? It looks like you. It looks like me. It can happen to anyone.’”

WomenHeart of Cone Health meets on the second Wednesday of every month at 11:30 a.m. and the third Thursday of every month at 6:00 p.m.