Rose Lopetrone – RN and former cardiac nurse, heart disease survivor and leader of the only WomenHeart support group in Canada – understands the importance of emotional support to women experiencing heart disease.
Despite a family history of heart disease, her own diagnosis at age 43 still came as a shock, she says.
“I had a very strong family history. My mom died during open heart surgery at just 60 years old and my brother had open heart at age 40,” she says. Still, “I never dreamed in a million years when I was using that equipment (as a nurse) that one day it would be used on me.”
The experience also led her to apply to a 2011 leadership symposium organized by the U.S. organization WomenHeart at the prestigious Mayo Clinic. There was nothing like it in Canada.
“It was amazing,” she says of the Mayo experience.
“When I went there, even though I was a nurse and had friends who were nurses, I had no idea the emotional impact being diagnoses and living with heart disease was going to have.”
Once at Mayo, she connected with people who understood what she was feeling.
From that, and with the support of then Health Minister Mike de Jong, emerged the monthly WomenHeart support group for local women living with heart disease, which Lopetrone co-leads with Barb Field, of the Heart Health program.
“We offer support, education, and advocacy for women with and at risk for heart disease. Women can also go to womenheart.org for more information on living with heart disease. We are the first and only women heart support network in Canada,” Lopetrone says.
The group welcomes women from all across the region meeting on the third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Royal Jubilee Hospital. Attendance is free, but women are asked to register ahead of time, Lopetrone says.
“We’ve had great success. It’s had a really big impact and we have had really great feedback from the women who have come and who continue to come.”
About 30 women are currently registered. “Not all come every time, but they know that it’s there for them when they need it,” Lopetrone says.
“It is a safe and confidential place for women to discuss their experiences. We sometimes have guest speakers – we have had physicians, pharmacists, nutritionists, exercise specialists, a travel insurance expert who was very informative, even someone who talked about meditation – but mostly the women talk and learn from each other,” she says.
“Heart disease is for life – it does not go into remission, you are not ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’ after you have had surgery or a stent. It is a life-long progressive illness – and when that realization hits you, you need all the support you can get, especially from those that know what that feels like.”
For more information about WomenHeart or to register, call 250-516-7673.