Close calls with heart disease drive opera star’s commitment to close the research gap
(Toronto) — Canadian opera star Measha Brueggergosman’s terrifying journey with heart disease began a decade ago. She survived two close calls and now she’s joined Heart & Stroke to publicize the #RedList, a campaign to raise awareness and funds for women’s research. Heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 cause of premature death for women in Canada.
In 2009, Brueggergosman was in a restaurant in Toronto, about to start rehearsals with the Toronto Symphony, when she felt pressure at the base of her throat and tingling in her extremities. As she looked for her health card her legs gave out and 9-1-1- was called.
“I am lucky to be alive,” Brueggergosman told Heart & Stroke. “I was kept overnight in hospital but sent home pumped full of blood pressure medication with an MRI appointment booked for three days later. I would not have made it if I waited that long.”
Still unwell, Measha saw her family doctor the following day. He sent her back to hospital with instructions to receive an MRI immediately. The test found an aortic tear and only emergency surgery saved her life.
Fast forward 10 years; Measha had just finished singing a series of concerts with the Calgary Philharmonic when she woke up with chest pain. Two MRIs found an 80 percent blockage in her arteries. This time she needed a double bypass to survive.
Now, just four months later, Measha is performing again, and has teamed up with Heart & Stroke as the new celebrity ambassador and spokesperson. Measha’s mesmerizing voice can be heard on the charity’s new TV spot, and powerful images and videos of Measha and other women with lived experience of heart disease and stroke are the focal point of Heart & Stroke’s new campaign.
“I’ve been a huge fan of the work that Heart & Stroke does for many years. We need to know more about women’s hearts and brains. The research simply isn’t there.” Measha added.
“Women are different from men, yet two-thirds of clinical heart disease and stroke research is based on men,” says Cindy Yip, PhD, Heart & Stroke’s director of data, knowledge management and heart program. “Women are dying unnecessarily because we don’t fully understand the difference between women’s and men’s hearts and brains. We can’t expect doctors and other healthcare professionals to recognize all the symptoms of heart disease and stroke in women until the research does.”
When it comes to heart disease and stroke, women continue to be under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated, under-supported and under-aware of their risks. The research gap means we lack critical information about the impact of differences between women’s and men’s hearts and brains. For example:
- Women’s hearts and arteries are smaller, and plaque builds in different ways.
- Women may show different symptoms of heart attack.
- Women may experience different symptoms with a TIA (mini-stroke).
We also need to understand why some conditions have more impact on women:
- Last year, 45% more women than men died of stroke in Canada.
- Women who have had a stroke have worse outcomes than men; they experience lower levels of mental and physical well-being.
- Heart attacks are more deadly for women, and women are more likely than men to suffer a second heart attack.
Finally, some risks are specific to women’s bodies and lives. For example:
- Pregnancy, menopause and hormonal changes affect women’s risk.
- Gender-based differences such as lower socio-economic status also impact women’s health.
Thanks to Heart & Stroke’s focus on women’s health, the following has already been achieved in the past three years:
- Funds for 15 researchers to specifically study women’s heart and brains.
- A Heart & Stroke mandate that all funded research consider sex and gender-based analysis and reporting (SGBAR). In just three years, from 2016 to the beginning of 2019, SGBAR for H&S funded research has increased from 59% to 76%. It is expected to be at 100% by the end of the year. Heart & Stroke is also calling on all other health funders to do the same.
- Funds to create a national research network of scientists, people with lived experience of heart disease and stroke to advance knowledge about women’s heart and brain health.
For more information about the Women’s campaign and to join the #RedList visit us at www.heartandstroke.ca.
About Heart & Stroke
Life. We don’t want you to miss it. That’s why Heart & Stroke leads the fight against heart disease and stroke. We must generate the next medical breakthroughs, so people in Canada don’t miss out on precious moments. Together, we are working to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery through research, health promotion and public policy.