In 2009, a short walk for Constance Vela while
vacationing in Europe turned into a battle for
air. With each step that she took, she became
more out of breath. Having been to multiple
physicians over the years with the same complaints
of shortness of breath and chest pain,
Mrs. Vela had been diagnosed with angina.
But her medications provided no relief, and
nobody suggested any further testing.
When she returned home from her trip,
her sister, Agnes, insisted that she make an
appointment to be evaluated by a cardiologist
at Winthrop. Agnes had recently seen Kevin
Marzo, MD, Chief of the Division of
Cardiology at Winthrop, an accomplished
interventional cardiologist skilled in all aspects
of vascular interventions, give a lecture at a
community event about the symptoms of heart
disease in women, and she knew that her sister
had exhibited many of those same symptoms.
Constance Vela of Dix Hills, NY, has travelled to
Europe twice since undergoing a carotid endarte-rectomy and triple bypass surgery at Winthrop. Thanks
to the education and support she has received from the
Hospital’s Women’s Cardiovascular Wellness and
Prevention Center, Mrs. Vela has been able to
improve her heart health and enjoy an active lifestyle.
“The day of my appointment, I barely
made it into the office. As soon as I entered,
I was put into a wheelchair and brought
straight to Winthrop’s Emergency Room,”
recalled Mrs. Vela.
An angiogram – a series of x-ray pictures
showing the internal contours of blood vessels
which feed the heart – revealed that three of
Mrs. Vela’s arteries were completely clogged, as
well as her carotid artery. A carotid endarterectomy
a skilled heart
Academic Affairs for the Department of
Thoracic and Cardio vascular Surgery at
Winthrop. Just six weeks after her surgery,
Mrs. Vela was able to travel to Connecticut
with her husband to see their son and grandchildren
“That day was the breakthrough of my
recovery – my fear was over, and I felt like I
was given a new life,” said Mrs. Vela.
Since then, Mrs. Vela and her husband
have traveled back to Europe twice, and, both
times, she was able to see and enjoy even more
sites than before. She continues taking trips to
visit her children and grandchildren and thoroughly
enjoys being able to exercise each day.
An integral part of Mrs. Vela’s recovery
has been the support she has received from
Dr. Marzo, as well as from the Women’s
Cardio vascular Wellness and Prevention
Center at Winthrop – a comprehensive
patient-centric prevention, treatment and
recovery program designed for women with
cardiovascular disease or those at risk for such.
The team includes Barbara George, EdD,
RCEP, MSN, RN, Program Director, and
Wendy Drewes, BSN, RN, Advanced Practice
Nurse Coordinator, who work with each
patient to create an individualized lifestyle
management program to help reduce
their risk of developing heart disease or
help them through the recovery process.
“As the number one killer of women,
heart disease is more likely to affect a
woman than any other disease,”
explained Dr. George. “Currently, more
than one in three adult women has
some form of heart disease. And, studies
have shown that gender differences play
a role in preventing, diagnosing and
treating cardiovascular disease. This is
why it is crucial that each woman takes
proactive steps to take care of her heart.”
Heart disease can present itself differently
in women and men, and because
it is often thought of as a man’s disease,
many women are not aware of the risk
factors for, or symptoms of, heart disease.
“Winthrop’s Women’s Cardio -
vascular Wellness and Prevention
Center is exceptional because the multidisciplinary
team integrates current
evidence-based clinical experience with
healing-oriented medicine that considers
the whole person – body, mind and
spirit – as well as each individual’s
lifestyle,” said Dr. George.
Mrs. Vela knew that she had to be
proactive about her heart health
because of her family history – an
important risk factor for developing
heart disease. Sadly, her mother had
passed away at 51-years-old from heart
disease, and her father fell to the same
tragic fate at the age of 66.
“At the time of my surgery, I was 66-
years-old, the same age that my father
was when he passed away,” said Mrs.
Vela. “With that type of family history,
you want to fight every way you can.”
In addition to unavoidable risk
factors such as family history, research
shows that other modifiable risk factors
such as lack of exercise, being overweight,
having a poor diet, excessive alcohol
consumption, tobacco use, and stress
are linked to cardiovascular disease.
“These factors can be eliminated or
reduced through the proper adjustments
to lifestyle, and that’s where the
Women’s Cardiovascular Wellness and
Prevention Center at Winthrop can
help,” said Dr. George. “We offer a
comprehensive lifestyle approach,
addressing all associated modifiable risk
factors including smoking, diabetes,
high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
sedentary lifestyle and obesity by offering
expertise in cardiology, nutrition,
exercise and mind-body intervention
which are critical to cardiovascular
disease prevention and treatment.”
Seventy-year-old Barbara Ghyll of
North Baldwin, NY, has been able to
improve her heart health and reduce her
risk of developing heart disease, thanks
to the help of Dr. Marzo, Dr. George
and Winthrop’s Women’s Cardiovascular
Wellness and Prevention Center. A
retired principal who currently works as
a leadership development specialist, Mrs.
Ghyll travels from Long Island to New
York City each day, and has no time to
feel any less than her best.
After being diagnosed with prediabetes
and an arrhythmic heartbeat,
Mrs. Ghyll met with Dr. Marzo, who
performed an EKG as well as a stress
test. Together, Dr. Marzo and Dr.
George helped Mrs. Ghyll develop a
plan to lose weight and adjust her medications.
Thanks to their expert care,
Mrs. Ghyll has been able to keep her
blood pressure under control and lose
over twenty pounds. Most importantly,
she enjoys an active lifestyle doing what
she loves most – educating.
Attention Women Pain, tightness, pressure, or
squeezing in the center of the
chest or crushing chest pain;
Sharp pain in the neck,
shoulder, upper back, or
Severe shortness of breath or
Nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness
or cold sweats;
Feelings of anxiety, fatigue, or
If you experience these symptoms
and think you may be having a
heart attack, call 911 immediately.
“After speaking with Dr. George, I
learned how important it was for me to
take care of my heart,” said Mrs. Ghyll.
Know the Signs of
a Heart Attack:
Now an advocate for raising awareness of
heart disease in women, Mrs. Ghyll has
brought Dr. George to speak to women
in her church about ways to reduce their
risks for developing heart disease.
“The lifesaving education that
Dr. George provided prompted many
women in my church to make changes
in their lives,” said Mrs. Ghyll. “Who
knows how many lives she’s saved
through her education and support.”
In keeping with the Hospital’s
mission, the Women’s Cardiovascular
Wellness and Prevention Center recognizes
the importance of educating the
community-at-large and providing the
necessary tools to address heart risk and
improve overall health and well-being.
In 2013, the Division of Cardiology is
planning to expand its Center to
include a comprehensive lifestyle medicine
program with the ultimate goal of
improving the cardiovascular health and
well-being for all individuals it serves.
Winthrop was recently named to
Becker’s Hospital Review’s “100
Hospitals With Great Women’s Health
Programs” list, which recognizes some
of the nation’s most outstanding hospitals
for women’s health programs.
Winthrop has also been identified by
Healthgrades as among the top 100
hospitals nationally for excellence in
overall cardiac care, cardiac surgery and
coronary interventional procedures.
If you are interested in scheduling a
consultation with a Winthrop cardiologist,
don’t wait – call 1-866-WINTHROP
Vol. 22, No. 3
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