In Her Words Feb 2013: Annabelle Volgman, MD

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Dr. Volgman discusses the number one killer of women – heart disease.

Having a safe haven for women with heart disease was a major impetus for creating the Rush Heart Center for Women. Women with potential heart disease need a place where they can feel they’re really listened to and taken seriously.

In 12 years of practicing cardiology before opening theRush Heart Center for Women, the message I heard from my patients was their doctors didn’t listen to them. Some women who came to Rush felt the doctors made a conclusion about what was wrong with them the minute they walked through the door. They were diagnosed, not with a problem with their hearts, but rather with a problem in their heads.

Many women were told not to worry about their hearts since the problem was most likely just stress or anxiety. In my practice, 95 percent of these women turned out to have heart conditions, which were often missed by the previous doctors. It’s no wonder there have been more women than men dying from heart disease since 1984.

Besides my husband and two children, my passion is taking care of people as a cardiologist. I’ve been a cardiologist for 22 years. I’ve taken care of some famous patients, including Oprah Winfrey, Chicago Bulls players, Chicago White Sox players, news anchors, presidents of companies and also many grandmothers, mothers, wives and sisters of people like you and me. I’ve taken care of many women who weren’t treated well by their previous cardiologists simply because they were women.

I’ve taken care of young women who were found to have heart tumors during her third trimester of pregnancy, women with worsening condition of her congenital heart disease during pregnancy and women who developed heart failure from the pregnancy. And I’m proud to say, with careful monitoring, all these women have become mothers of healthy babies and are doing quite well.

I’ve taken care of 90-year-old men and women who’ve graciously thanked me and given me permission to allow them to live with dignity. An elegant, 96-year-old patient of mine celebrated a birthday party given by her 70-year-old son at our hospital dining room, inviting all of her doctors and nurses. It was one of the most enjoyable birthday parties I’ve had at work. When I told her that we could implant a defibrillator to prevent her sudden cardiac death, she said she appreciated my offer and concern, but that she was fine with leaving this world without being shocked multiple times. She passed away with dignity a few months after that birthday party.

There are hundreds of women that come to the Rush Heart Center for Women and ask me to help them deal with their risks. Some have required gastric bypass surgery as a last resort to deal with their weight problems. Most just needed to be told they have to be more active and eat a healthier diet. Some have required angioplasties, stents, open-heart surgeries, catheter ablations, pacemakers and defibrillators. But all of them just needed to know their doctor was helping them get healthier and live a better quality of life. They just needed someone who cared for them.

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About Annabelle S. Volgman, MD

Annabelle S. Volgman, MD is the medical director of Rush University Medical Center's Heart Center for Women. She has published numerous abstracts/articles on women and heart disease and is a prominent leader of the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement. Dr. Volgman has received numerous awards from the organization and vows to prevent the number one killer of women, heart disease, from taking even more lives.