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By Aimee Murray
MUSC employee Kathie Faulkner tells her story in hopes of other women taking their symptoms seriously. Photo by Sarah Pack, Public Relations
A self–proclaimed do it yourself project lover and somewhat of a comedian, Kathie Faulkner had conquered everything from yard work to installing granite counter tops in her kitchen. No project was too difficult. It wasn’t until she was told she had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and would need quadruple bypass surgery that she realized her most important project to date: regaining her health.
Four years ago, while installing granite counter tops in her kitchen, Faulkner, 58, experienced chest pains. “I thought, oh, I pulled something. My chest hurt, but not anything bad,” she said. Thinking the cause of her pain wasn’t anything serious, she took Rolaids and Aspirin. When they failed to relieve the pain, she knew she needed to see a doctor.
“I was never one to go to the doctor; didn’t like the doctor,” Faulkner said. She knows she’s not in the minority as a woman with heart disease and that’s why she’s glad to see events like the Go Red for Women campaign held each February.
Faulkner, an administrative assistant in the Clinical Education Department, failed a stress test and a subsequent nuclear stress test and knew then
something was really wrong. “It was like I couldn’t pass any test: not a spelling test, a pregnancy test, nothing. I thought maybe it was menopause or my age. That was in January, 2010 and in March I had quadruple bypass surgery.”
Faulkner is back to her projects, only now she also goes to the gym three times a week, watches what she eats and has since quit smoking, which was no small feat since she smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 36 years. “My parents smoked and they both quit when they went into the hospital for different things. And we’re Southern Baptist. When somebody died, we had to have fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. But now I exercise three times a week no matter what. The only time I don’t go is when the gym isn’t open.”
During her recovery time at home, Faulkner realized that she had nothing to do, but knew she couldn’t smoke or eat unhealthy snacks. “I think about everything I put in my mouth now. Doctors Kratz and Elliott worked hard on my heart and I want to make sure I protect what they did,” she said of her surgeons John Kratz, M.D., a professor in the Department of Surgery and Bruce Elliott, M.D., chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery.
She also praises the efforts of Marian Taylor, M.D., a cardiologist and assistant professor in MUSC’s Division of Cardiology. Faulkner said one thing women can do to survive an event similar to hers is to choose a good doctor. “She’s so sweet and she really is the nicest person. I was lucky to get her. I don’t know how I got her, but I’m very glad I did.”
As a result of the initial surprise of her diagnosis, Faulkner said that it’s important that women listen to their bodies and be aware of what’s going on.
“Women just keep going, even when we’re hurting, but pay attention to those little twinges when you think something’s not right, because usually, something’s not right.”
Faulkner regrets she didn’t take more time for herself or pay attention to her body because she was always busy with projects at home or at work. “I paid no attention because I never felt bad. Even though I smoked a lot, I was not one of those people who was chronically ill. You say to yourself it’ll go away. Yeah it’ll go away, when they call Stuhr’s [funeral home].”
Taylor hopes women will hear Faulkner’s message as heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the nation.
“Many women don’t know the risk factors and they don’t know that the signs and symptoms can be atypical. Because women don’t recognize they’re having a heart attack, they don’t seek care early enough. By the time they do, they have heart damage,” Taylor said.
Taylor also noted that many women tend to put themselves on the back burner, negatively affecting their health.
“The mortality rate for coronary heart disease is almost tenfold greater than that of breast cancer and is 50 percent greater than that of all forms of cancer combined,” she added.
That statistic makes Faulkner shudder when she thinks of how lucky she was. “I was very fortunate to have access to all of the physicians and care that MUSC offers. As a result of my experience, I’m challenged to become a better advocate!”
Many women lack adequate knowledge about heart disease and that is one of the main reasons Taylor supports Go Red for Women activities. “The events mainly raise awareness. Go Red events educate the public, specifically women, about heart disease.”
Upcoming events are:
National Wear Red Day
Friday, Feb. 7 (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in ART lobby /atrium)
Join MUSC as we wear red to raise awareness of the No. 1 killer of women, heart disease, and how to prevent it. MUSC will host an event in the ART atrium / lobby, which includes food vendors, free red hair streaks, free on-site wellness “mini” classes, free BP screenings and lots of other health information and activities.
Paint the Town Red
All of February — To create awareness, local restaurants and stores are asked to paint a red dress on their storefront window along with a creative display. Restaurants are also encouraged to create a heart–healthy special on their menu on National Wear Red Day, Friday, Feb. 7.
Paws Go Red
Sunday, Feb. 23, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., James Island County Park, Wappoo Shelter
Pet Helpers, the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Campaign and MUSC Heart and Vascular Center team up at the James Island County Park for heart health screenings for dogs and their owners. Followed by a short walk, dogs will be judged for a Go Red costume competition. For more information about the event contact Pet Helpers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go Red for Women Luncheon
Wednesday, April 23, 10:30 a.m. to
1 p.m., Riviera Theatre
Please join us for a networking luncheon with breakout sessions focused on women and healthy living. The keynote speaker will focus on women and healthy living. Proceeds benefit the American Heart Association’s women and heart disease research and education. For more information call 810–1903.