WomenHeart: Compassionate Support for Female Survivors of Heart Disease & Their Loved Ones

Women's Dating

WomenHeart: Compassionate Support for Female Survivors of Heart Disease & Their Loved Ones

Hayley Matthews Hayley Matthews • 4/06/17

The Short Version: A serious illness can feel like a heavy social burden, especially in the dating world. But some altruistic groups endeavor to lighten the load. WomenHeart offers educational resources and emotional support geared toward women diagnosed with heart disease. The nonprofit has 20,000 members and nearly 20 years of experience educating people about heart disease. Its Support Network meetings are led by Champions who know what it’s like to go through this illness and want to make sure other survivors don’t have to face the disease alone. Finding strength through advocacy, WomenHeart raises awareness about how heart disease impacts the lives and relationships of millions of women throughout the US. Whether you’re a survivor of heart disease or seeking resources to help a sick loved one, WomenHeart offers compassionate assistance to help you along the healing process.

When you live with heart disease, the diagnosis can change every aspect of your life — from your eating habits to your close relationships.

Pamela Thomas experienced this firsthand. She was diagnosed with an enlarged heart when she was 5 years old, and by the time she was 38, her heart was already beginning to fail. After undergoing numerous surgeries from 2008 to 2012, her general health improved, but her underlying heart condition cast a shadow on her personal life. “Someone looking at me now would never know I’m sick,” she told us, “but anyone I date needs to be aware of what signs to look out for.”

Imagine going on a date and keeping this secret. When do you lay your heart on the line and tell your date you’re sick? Pamela prefers to get it over with right away. “If he’s going to leave, I’d rather he leave early,” she told us. “My biggest fear is a man wouldn’t accept me or want to take care of me because of my heart condition.”

Luckily, Pamela has found almost all of the men she’s told to be accepting and gracious partners. She has a big heart and doesn’t let that slow her down from weight training, working full-time, and enjoying an active dating life.

“Pamela is a former model and absolutely stunning, but dating is complicated for her because of her illness. How do you decide when to tell a date you’re sick? It’s an awful decision to have to make,” said Tom Murphy, Communications Director for WomenHeart, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about heart disease in women in the US.

Screenshot of WomenHeart's homepage

WomenHeart helps survivors of heart disease and their loved ones educate themselves and prepare for what’s ahead.

WomenHeart empowers women, like Pamela, who have been diagnosed with heart disease, through support groups, educational programs, and advocacy efforts. The coalition of survivors raises visibility for heart disease as a female health issue and gives both survivors and caregivers plenty of tools to help them from diagnosis onward.

If a woman close to you has been diagnosed with heart disease, you find out how to care for her using WomenHeart’s extensive resources for friends and family.

“You don’t have to be a woman to be invested in this mission,” Tom said, “you just have to love one.”

In 1999, Three Women Raised Awareness of a Serious Health Issue

Founded by three women in 1999, WomenHeart is the only national patient-oriented organization focused exclusively on women’s heart disease. The three founders all suffered heart attacks while in their 40s and so felt passionately about the need for more information and services centered on female heart disease.

“They came together to improve the quality of life for women with heart disease,” said Tom. “Such a serious diagnosis can leave a person feeling isolated or overwhelmed, so we offer encouragement from somebody who’s been there.”

Photo of the WomenHeart logo

By building a community of survivors, WomenHeart empowers women diagnosed with heart disease.

According to Tom, heart disease kills approximately one woman every 80 seconds, and yet is a largely overlooked medical condition for women. WomenHeart was meant to change people’s misperceptions about what heart disease looks like and who it affects. It’s not just a male disease. It’s the number one killer of women in the US.

WomenHeart offers education, advocacy, and support to female survivors of heart disease. This caring coalition has gained tremendous traction among heart disease survivors and their loved ones — today the organization boasts 20,000 members across the country.

WomenHeart encourages women of all ages to know their risk for heart disease and get an annual check up to keep an eye on important numbers like their cholesterol, blood pressure, and BMI. Simple preventative measures can have a lasting impact on your health and sense of well-being.

Helping Women Through Education, Advocacy & Community Building

Every year, WomenHeart welcomes health advocates and professionals to the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. This educational program teaches attendees how to foster peer-to-peer support as a way of bringing healing and strength to heart patients. Through engaged Support Network meetings, WomenHeart gives women an outlet to share their stories, learn about heart disease, and find empathy from fellow survivors.

WomenHeart has also built virtual support networks in a growing online community to connect women who may not live in close proximity to one another but nonetheless share a common struggle against their illness. “We want to reach people wherever they are,” Tom told us. “Women patients are the centerpiece of everything we do at WomenHeart.”

The nonprofit supports and empowers heart disease survivors with resources to help them tackle their health challenges. SisterMatch pairs women up with someone who has undergone a similar health crisis and can offer valuable support on the road to recovery. One of the most important functions of such programs is to let female heart patients know they aren’t alone.

“Life is a gift. WomenHeart provides survivors a way to connect with people who understand what they are going through to help us overcome our obstacles!” — Jenny Ward, a heart patient touched by WomenHeart

“If you’re the only person in your circle of friends with this diagnosis and this condition, it can be a lot harder to see the possibilities of what you can do,” Tom said. “Support group meetings have an enormous impact on the social and emotional well-being for women with heart disease.”

Over the years, WomenHeart has established a sisterhood of women who understand the lifelong impact such a serious diagnosis can have. Its Champions tell their stories and spread the word about heart disease in women. As a support group leader for the organization, Pamela helps other survivors express themselves, maybe cry a little, and regain their sense of well-being.

“WomenHeart provides tools for Champions like me to utilize and help other women deal with heart disease,” she said. “It made me strong again.”

Offering Meaningful Ways For Loved Ones to Show They Care

If your partner is suffering from heart disease, you need to know what symptoms and signs to look out for. As Pamela explained, “If my blood pressure drops and I pass out, he needs to know what’s going on and what to do.” She swaps family contact information with her dates early on in case of a serious situation. “If we’re in Paris and something happens, he needs to be able to contact close family or friends.”

Being a good caregiver means being there for your partner through thick and thin. Loved ones can do a lot to support the physical health and emotional well-being of their significant others. WomenHeart offers educational resources so you can study up on everything from cooking healthy meals to understanding the US health care system.

Whether advocating for greater access to adequate health care or donating scarves to hospitalized women, WomenHeart works hard to provide meaningful assistance to women with heart disease.

If you want to do something positive for a survivor, WomenHeart suggests knitting a scarf. Heart scarves have become the symbol of the sisterhood of heart disease survivors. These beautiful handmade scarves are delivered by WomenHeart Champions to women in the hospital after experiencing a cardiac event. It’s immensely comforting when you’re in a lonely hospital room to have a reminder that some people out there care enough to spend hours knitting a gift for someone in need.

WomenHeart Promotes Greater Emotional & Physical Well-Being

WomenHeart gives survivors of heart disease (and their caregivers) valuable resources and support networks to get them back on their feet. The nonprofit advocates on behalf of women suffering from heart disease in the US and connects thousands of patients and their families in a strong cross-country network.

If you’re feeling isolated because of your diagnosis, you can turn to WomenHeart to find many sympathetic ears and helpful programs that cater to women suffering from heart disease. By joining this compassionate community, many women become Champions, like Pamela, who lead others to confront and overcome their illnesses.

Singles with heart disease should wear their red scarves with pride on dates and declare themselves survivors. “It’s not a hard conversation to have anymore,” Pamela told us, “because it’s just who I am. I just make my condition known and move on. It’s not something I think about all the time.”