Fighting One of Our Nation's Biggest Health Threats

Appeared in:
Smart Business Orange County

Every 20 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a heart attack. Heart attacks, the most common sign of heart disease, strike 1.1 million people annually. More than 40 percent of them will die. Human costs of heart disease are compounded by financial costs of $260 billion annually, including health care services, medications and lost productivity.

Executives are particularly susceptible. Stress, inactivity, lack of proper nutrition, avoidance of doctor visits and being “just too busy” to adopt healthy lifestyles make heart disease a serious problem among management and staff.

Smart Business recently spoke with David Perkowski, M.D., cardiac surgeon at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, and Steven Schiff, M.D., cardiologist and medical director of invasive cardiovascular services at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, to learn more.

How can we prevent heart disease?

Studies show that lowering cholesterol and treating high blood pressure reduces the risk of dying of heart disease, having a non-fatal heart attack and needing heart bypass surgery or angioplasty. Preventive measures include maintaining a healthy weight and eating foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fats. Reducing stress, controlling blood pressure and exercising regularly are important, plus getting regular checkups and screenings and following your doctor’s advice. Prevention should start early in life. With one in three 6- to 17-year-olds overweight in California, the number of kids with risk factors for heart disease — high body-mass index, glucose intolerance, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol — translates into a higher risk of chronic disease as an adult.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

For many women, symptoms can be so subtle they may not suspect they’re in trouble. These may include nausea or dizziness; uncomfortable pressure, tightness, squeezing, fullness or heaviness in the chest that does not go away quickly; cold sweats or pounding heart; pain that radiates up to the shoulders and neck or down the arms or back; difficulty breathing and/or shortness of breath. On the other hand, men say they feel crushing chest pain, like an elephant sitting on their chest.

How are women affected?

More women than men die from heart disease. And one in five women have cardiovascular disease, killing more women than all forms of cancer, chronic lung disease, pneumonia, diabetes, accidents and AIDS combined.

What expertise is available in Orange County?

Utilizing the most advanced technology and research, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Memorial and Saddleback Memorial offers innovative heart and vascular treatments. These include open heart surgery, angioplasty, stenting and device implantation such as internal defibrillators and pacemakers. In addition, heart and vascular care includes catheter ablations, rehabilitation and centers for women’s cardiac health and research.

We are among a few designated cardiac paramedic receiving centers in Orange County with emergency treatment times that beat the national average. Orange Coast Memorial’s Hybrid Cardiovascular Interventional Suite — the first in the county and one of only a few in the U.S. — is designed for open heart surgery and interventional procedures, or possibly a combination of both in one suite.

Saddleback Memorial is a pioneer in beating heart surgery, a way to perform surgery without stopping the heart, which can result in better preservation of heart function, reduced hospital stay and quicker recovery.

How can we help create a healthy workplace?

A healthy lifestyle is your best defense against a number of diseases. The workplace is a source of many roadblocks to better health. Start with small changes, like replacing cookies and candy snacks with fruits and vegetables and encouraging staff to take the stairway instead of the elevator. An incentive program can reward employees for losing weight and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Lunchtime walking groups and demonstrations of exercises to do at the desk can reap benefits. Also engage your employees’ entire family in prevention programs to extend healthy habits at home. Healthier employees are typically happier and more productive.

Where do we start?

Take steps to create a healthier work force. Connect with hospitals, physicians and the American Heart Association for collaborative programs, screenings and lifestyle advice for employees — and that includes management. Post healthy lifestyle reminders throughout the workplace. Link your Web site and intranet to health prevention sites. MemorialCare’s Web site ( has health tools and calculators in the ‘Your Health’ section that help evaluate your risk for a number of diseases. There are free health guides on our Web site for heart attack symptoms as well as heart-healthy eating and women’s heart matters.

MemorialCare Health System facilities can offer your company health education and prevention programs at your worksite or other convenient locations as well as comprehensive heart evaluations and executive physicals.

David Perkowski, M.D., is a cardiac surgeon at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center. Steven Schiff, M.D., is a cardiologist and medical director of invasive cardiovascular services at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center.