Local women take charge in heart disease fight

Joy Lucas (right) and Hope Plavin at Wednesday morning's Go Red for Women 2018 campaign kickoff event in Clifton Park.

KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTERJoy Lucas (right) and Hope Plavin at Wednesday morning's Go Red for Women 2018 campaign kickoff event in Clifton Park. KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTER

By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — Local activists donned red to kick off their yearly fight against the No. 1 killer of women: heart disease.

Wednesday marked the start of the 2018 Capital Region Go Red for Women campaign, a movement dedicated to raising awareness of women’s cardiovascular disease. As they gathered at the Park Manor Hotel in town, audience members greeted Joy Lucas and Hope Plavin, two Saratoga Springs residents who will be co-chairing this year’s campaign. Both women went through near-death experiences that have pushed them to the forefront of the fight against heart disease.

Lucas, owner of Upstate Animal Medical Center, almost died two years ago from a dissecting aortic aneurysm, a rare condition in which there is a tear in the wall of the major artery carrying blood out of the heart. Lucas knew the condition was hereditary: Her father died from the same thing 25 years ago.

But none of her doctors, she said, ever told her to get her heart checked. Lucas went through five days of symptoms that she attributed to stress, including a headache, and at no point, she added, did she ever consider staying home from work.

“Tomorrow, I’ll feel more like me. That line of thinking almost killed me,” she said.

Ultimately, Lucas did visit the emergency room, and after a chance CT scan, her doctor finally figured out that her life was at risk.

“Next thing I know, I’m being told I have a 10 percent chance of living through the night.”

After 10 hours of emergency surgery, Lucas has made it her mission in life to urge other women to take even minor irregularities seriously. While her story seemed bizarre at the time, she said, she realized that it ultimately wasn’t all that unusual, and that dozens of other women don’t necessarily feel bad while experiencing a cardiovascular event. They just don’t feel normal, she pointed out.

“That’s scary, because if we don’t recognize that as a potential problem, it may not be picked up in a doctor’s office either,” she said.

Plavin has a slightly different story. She didn’t have a heart attack, or another cardiovascular event. Instead, she suffered a stroke while she was out running seven years ago. She noted that she was brought to two hospitals before she was able to get help.

As she recovered, Plavin’s doctors told her that it was essentially a miracle that she made it through the trauma without sustaining some sort of disability. But she’s taking her second chance at life and, like Lucas, is using it to educate women so they can make sure that what happened to her doesn’t happen to them.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease kills almost 45,000 New Yorkers each year, while strokes cause an average of 6,200 deaths in the state annually.

Heart disease and strokes cause one in three deaths among women each year. However, Lucas pointed out that 80 percent of strokes and cardiac events can be prevented with proper education and lifestyle changes.

The goal of AHA is to reduce the number of deaths caused by heart disease and strokes by 20 percent by the year 2020. The Capital Region raises around $2 million each year to go toward heart disease awareness.

Plavin added that education is key to raising awareness about heart disease in women. But the education needs to extend to a non-civilian level. Doctors and first responders, she said, need to be better trained to start considering heart issues at the onset of problems. Medical school training, she said, can play an integral part in saving thousands of lives each year.

“We get to give back. That’s a gift. So if we can give back by making sure that one person, and each person is one more person, either avoids what we went through altogether, or if they end up in the hospital, that they get the best damn treatment there possibly is, and really understand why it’s different for women” she said.

“We have to get on ground level with EMTs, with nurses, with doctors during their training, so when they put that blood pressure cuff on, when they put that stethoscope on that woman’s body, that conversation doesn’t stop there,” Lucas said.