Women's heart health has changed a lot over of the past 20 years and will do so in the next 20 years. Just ask Celina Gorre, chief executive officer of WomenHeart, an organization that improves the health and quality of life of women living with or at risk of heart disease and advocates for their benefit.
WomenHeart was founded in 1999, and Gorre joined the organization in June 2019. "I think that we can celebrate that women and heart disease is increasing in its profile," says Gorre, reflecting on her tenure so far. "Whether it's on the Hill in the policy space, media stories about women and heart disease, and even on late night television, it's gaining some traction."
She looks forward to WomenHeart 2.0. "We've been around for 20 years, and now we're looking at the next 20 years," Gorre says. "It's a time for growth and focusing on what's most important for us—women living and at risk of heart disease."
Just Like a Sister
Nearly 50 million women in the United States have heart disease or are at risk of getting it. With various heart organizations out there, WomenHeart sets itself apart by focusing solely on women and advocating on a federal level for health equity for women.
It also has a community of Mayo Clinic–trained patients—called Champions—who speak on behalf of the organization at events to fellow patients and run support groups around the country. "In [response to] what these women have been through, they have [learned] a lot about prevention and things you need to continue to do to keep yourself healthy," says Gorre.
Read the story of one Champion who experienced a heart attack.
After being diagnosed with heart disease, many women experience isolation and depression. Women with heart disease now can get support from someone just like them, who are on the same journey to live well with heart disease. Being able to talk to someone who's been there can make a difference in emotional recovery by providing support and encouragement.
That's where SisterMatch comes in. It's a peer-to-peer support opportunity for women living with heart disease. The match process connects participants with Champions who best match the responses provided in a questionnaire. "As part of its growth, WomenHeart is now making this program accessible to even more women with a mobile app that will be launching soon," says Gorre.
Through SisterMatch, women connect over the phone, in person or via email. With this peer connection, women can learn how to deal with new thoughts and feelings in ways that written information, cardiac rehabilitation and other recovery services may not achieve. That can provide women with a sense of hope, well-being and healing.
WomenHeart also participates in initiatives that target communities particularly at risk for heart disease. That includes African American and Latina communities. "We have various ways that we're trying to reach out and speak to those communities," Gorre says.
Another at-risk community is millennials. "Millennials aren't immune from having to deal with heart disease," says Gorre, who says that she has met one of WomenHeart's youngest Champions who is 27 years old. "We're seeing that heart disease is affecting women earlier and earlier in their lives. Not every woman fits the stereotype of a heart patient."
Gorre says she often meets women who are anxious and pessimistic about their diagnosis. However, she wants women to be empowered and informed to make decisions about their health. "We provide a platform for women to share their stories that has positive benefits for other women in similar situations," she says. "We want to turn a negative situation into something that fuels their passion and [supports their] community."
For more information on WomenHeart or becoming a Champion, visit its website.