Heather Hoopes-Matthews is a little nervous. Although she's young, athletic, and in good shape, she's been tired lately.
So far, Heather has done what most women would do. She's ignored it.
In the back of her mind, however, is a persistent little voice reminding her that her mother has had heart disease for years. So, when given a chance to go through the diagnostic screening program at the new Providence Women's Heart Center, that little voice piped up with a big "yes."
According to Women's Heart Center director Cindy Thompson, Heather was smart to heed it. "Once you've got heart disease, you've got it," she warns.
Scary as that sounds, there is good news. For most people, heart disease is preventable and controllable.
That's why Heather is here. She knows heart disease is the number one killer of women in South Carolina. And her family history puts her at risk of heart disease, so she wants to know how to minimize it.
To do that, she'll spend the next few hours undergoing a series of assessments. When she's finished, she'll know her risk for developing heart disease.
After completing a little paperwork, Heather is seated in a patient room where a nurse draws two vials of blood from her arm. "Looks like they hired a pro," smiles Heather. "That hardly hurt at all."
After taking her blood pressure, Cindy pricks Heather's finger to measure her cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The blood test machine beeps, and Cindy explains the readout. "Your cholesterol is 146, which is fine. Your bad cholesterol or LDL is low, but so is your good cholesterol or HDL. You need to get that up, and the nutritionist will discuss ways to do that."
Heather changes out of her street clothes and into a cozy robe for two tests: an EKG, which can find segments of the heart that have literally "died" as a result of a heart attack, and an ankle/brachial index assessment, which measures blood flow to the extremities.
"When you have a heart attack, the part of your heart that didn't receive any oxygen actually dies," says Cindy. "There's nothing you can do to bring it back, and that's why prevention is so important."
Heather aces the three-minute fitness test, which only raises her heart rate by 14 beats per minute. This fitness test is a very effective way to measure how quickly the heart recovers from exertion.
In her nutrition consultation, Heather is shocked by the size of the food portions nutritionist Michelle Burcin shows her. "That's a portion?" Heather asks of the miniscule stack of carrots. "Yes," replies Michelle. "A half-cup of vegetables or a three-ounce portion of meat isn't much." Then Michelle gives Heather a few tips for modifying her diet to help raise her low HDL cholesterol level.
Cindy smiles broadly as Heather walks into her office for the final phase of her consultation. "Based on our analysis of your test results, Heather, I'm happy to tell you that your chance of having a heart attack in the next ten years appears to be less than one percent," she says.
As Heather stands to leave, she tells Cindy, "I'm greatly relieved, but I'm also surprised my good cholesterol was not high enough. I would have thought my bad cholesterol would have been the problem, given my love for junk food. I'm glad to know what I have to tackle."