By Erika Rosenthal
(San Bernardino, CA) Joyce Fairman is the CEO and Founder ofHearts of Color, Inc., an advocacy group for minority women dedicated to educating the public and raising awareness about heart disease and prevention.
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease remains the number one killer of US women, taking approximately one woman’s life every minute and claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined.
Joyce’s mission with Hearts of Color, Inc.resonates with us at Okyanos Heart Institute because she, along with her strong penchant for research, strives to make a change in the standards of how minority women with heart disease are cared for while seeking treatment. In addition to that, just in time for American Heart Association Month, Joyce continues to spread a message of hope and awareness to every heart patient she meets.
After talking with her for just a short while, I came away from our conversation with a sense of her dedication towards providing support and education to both heart patients and healthcare providers. We are happy to share a portion of that conversation here.
Q&A with Joyce Fairman – CEO/Founder of Hearts of Color, Inc.
1. First, tell us a little about your story and the formation of Hearts of Color, Inc. How did you get to be so passionate about the issue of heart disease?
“In 2006, I was teaching in Arizona when a student pointed out to me that I had swollen ankles. I assumed it was the climate or dehydration, but didn’t think much of it. A few years later, I returned to California and began experiencing exhaustion and pressure in my back. I went to see a doctor, and he told me I was overweight and just needed to lose a few pounds. I attributed much of what I was experiencing to my large schedule and stress.
“After a hectic 2010, I was with a friend one afternoon when I collapsed. I went to the ER and was informed I had been diagnosed with a dissected aorta. My prognosis was 50/50 and, although this was a shock to me, I chose to remain true to my faith. I believe you have to believe in something other than yourself and have a strong belief system in order to be successful and compassionate.
“After multiple surgeries, I went home to recover. Coming out of something like this, you feel very blessed to be alive. I didn’t know what it meant to have a dissected aorta. I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until my doctors told me, ‘Most people do not survive this. God must have something else for you to do.’
During my recovery time, I built our website and began contacting colleagues. I then dedicated my time to research and quickly realized the numbers were staggering for minority women with heart disease, and that I had to do something—whatever little piece I could contribute.”
2. What is your mission with Hearts of Color, Inc.?
“My mother used to tell me, “You may be the only person out on the corner with your sign out, but sooner or later you’ll end up with people who will support you,” and that is how it has been withHearts of Color.
“My primary mission is to provide support and education to both patients and healthcare providers in how to better care for women who are in minority groups. Heart disease not only affects the patient, but their friends, family and the world around that patient. Women are dying in such high numbers globally from this disease, and I hope to assist with resources to reverse this trend and prevent others from going through what I had to.”
3. In educating women of color, what would be the key points you would convey to them about heart disease?
“Many women are afraid to ask questions of their doctor. If you don’t understand a diagnosis or some aspect of the terminology your physician is using, don’t be afraid to ask.
“It is also very important to understand the risk factors associated with heart disease—smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating, etc. There are also some interesting correlations between domestic violence and heart disease.
“Know what signs to look for. Women often do not experience the same symptoms as men. Recurring stomach aches, nausea, upper back and shoulder pain—all of these could be considered somewhat normal aches and pains, but may be signs of a more serious underlying issue.
“Lastly, make sure you understand your own genetics, even if you are adopted. Does anyone in your family have a history of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and so on? These are important questions to ask.
4. What would you wish to convey to healthcare providers?
“Specifically when dealing with minority women as heart patients, I always encourage physicians to be sensitive to culture, religious beliefs and emotional issues that may be occurring. If a patient appears scared, ask them, ‘Is there anything you want to talk to me about?’ Depression and uncertainty can be common byproducts of heart disease, and I think it is important that healthcare providers remain sensitive to the personal and individual needs of their patients.”
To learn more about Hearts of Color, Inc., please visit www.heartsofcolor.org