Whidbey Island women unite for healthy hearts

Even nurses have a thing or two to learn about heart health.

Barbara Read, R.N., a labor and delivery nurse at Whidbey General Hospital, considers herself well-versed in the health care profession.

“I’ve been in this field for 30 years and yet I learned something from this experience,” she said of Whidbey General Hospital’s Heartwise screening program.

The program is a simple finger-prick blood draw test that measures cholesterol, triglyceride and glucose levels in five minutes. The one-hour screenings also include one-to-one counseling on diet, exercise and stress management.

“I was shocked how much I learned about heart health,” she said. “It’s an eye-opener.”

Read first took the test in 2008 and saw room for improvement. She improved her diet and now exercises three times a week. When she re-took the test a year later, not only did she feel better, but the numbers reflected her efforts.

She lost a little weight, lowered her blood pressure and improved her cholesterol. “The most important thing is a feel better,” she said. “I wish every woman on the island could do this.”

Read’s wish has come true.

This year the North, Central, and South Whidbey Soroptimist International clubs will provide scholarships to low-income women who might otherwise not be able to afford the $65 test. Their decision was based on the success of South Whidbey Soroptimists’ Heart of a Woman program.

Michelle Renninger, R.N., calls the grant program a “big step” toward the commingling of regional groups.

“It’s never been done on the island before, by any group,” she said to a room-full of women, many of whom are members of the Coupeville Soroptimist club.

Coupeville Soroptimist President Vivian Rogers-Decker credited the central club’s interest in the program to Janie Keilwitz, R.N., who spoke to the group about women’s risk for cardiovascular disease.

With help from a grant through the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Association, the club will provide up to 37 scholarships to Central Whidbey women who are unable to afford the screening. The Oak Harbor Soroptimist Club will to sponsor 100 scholarships for north-end women.

Keilwitz administered over 500 Heartwise tests over the last several years. Since then, she’s seen some return clients who took their results to heart, made lifestyle and dietary changes, and improved their numbers, she said.

“Heart disease doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over a lifetime,” Keilwitz said.

The disease is preventable and reversible, she said. Simple little lifestyle changes can produce noticeable results in lab work and general well-being.

Genetic factors can’t be changed, but a heart-healthy diet and exercise can reduce the risk of developing the disease. Also, smokers should kick the habit, asap.

When asked what the leading cause of death is for women, the most common response is “breast cancer,” Keilwitz said.


The leading cause of death among women is cardiovascular disease. One in three women will die of the disease, which claims the lives of about 460,000 women each year. That equates to one death every 37 seconds. In comparison, about 40,000 women die of breast cancer annually.

Another startling figure, said Keilwitz, is that more women than men die suddenly from heart attacks. The symptoms are different for men and women and are often ignored. Men normally experience chest pain, feelings of indigestion and tingling, while women may experience upper back pain, shortness of breath, fatigue or dizziness. Mens’ symptoms are well publicized while women’s are not, which may have led to a higher death rate of the disease among women.

For the past two years, the South Whidbey Soroptimists, in partnership with the Whidbey General Hospital Foundation, have allowed 90 South Whidbey women to receive the Heartwise Screening.

Screenings are held at the hospital’s Life Center for Essential Wellness in Coupeville. Call 678-7656 ext. 2130 for an appointment.

Learn about a healthy heart

Learn how to keep your heart healthy at the Red Dress Luncheon, an all-day seminar that covers a variety of heart-healthy topics.

• Thursday Feb. 11, Trinity Lutheran Church, 18341 Highway 525, Freeland, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• Tuesday Feb. 23, First United Methodist Church, 1050 SE Ireland St., Oak Harbor, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Upcoming screenings during Heart Month:

• Island Athletic screenings in Freeland, Feb. 10, 17, 18.

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