Topeka Kansas first lady Stacy Parkinson wants women to get an annual heart assessment just like they do a mammogram.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.
“The people in our community have done a great job with public awareness on breast cancer, and we all get our mammograms and our screenings, and that has been a wonderful thing for women’s health,” she said. “We need to do the same thing when it comes to heart disease.”
She spoke Saturday during a brunch at Cedar Crest to help launch a statewide women’s heart initiative, “A Change of Heart — for Kansas,” along with Kansas University Hospital leaders.
Women from KU Hospital’s heart team designed a 90-minute women’s heart health assessment, and since 2008, 500 women have taken the assessment, including Parkinson. Of those, 88 percent were determined to have at least one risk factor.
At age 49, Shirley Allenbrand, of Lenexa, took the test at the suggestion of a friend. It turned out to be life-saving. Doctors found a bulge in the upper aorta, and warned if she did any type of rigorous activity it could erupt. She needed to have surgery right away, and she did.
“Because of the university and what they are doing, I am alive today. I owe my life to them,” she said.
KU is ready to expand its heart health program with the help of the 100 women leaders who attended the brunch. They came from as far away as Great Bend and represented a variety of organizations and agencies. Among the attendees were State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, and State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence.
Parkinson called on them to help do three things:
- Raise awareness about heart disease.
- Get a heart health assessment.
- Become an advocate for heart health.
She also asked for participants to serve on a new women’s heart health council that will help guide the initiative and work to get KU’s assessment in doctors’ offices across the state. KU is seeking advice on how best to do that, and wants to work in partnerships with health professionals.
Dr. Ashley Simmons, medical director of KU’s heart program, said the test doesn’t just include the typical blood pressure, cholesterol and Body Mass Index measurements, but also an individualized plan and counseling.
“To have a 90-minute visit, one-on-one, can be life-changing,” she said.
Simmons said they are seeing heart disease in women at earlier ages because of the obesity epidemic.
KU is tracking the campaign’s effectiveness.
“Our goal is pretty simple. We want to make Kansas the healthiest state in the country and also a role model for change in this country,” KU Hospital CEO and President Bob Page said.