Time to listen to your heart: New group promotes cardiac health, community support

Posted: Friday, February 12, 2010

February is American Heart Month, and while many are thinking about their lovelorn hearts this time of year, two local women are hoping to remind people that there are diseases far more dangerous than Cupid's arrows.

Soldotna's Sharen Sleater and Jeanette Rodgers were blown away this past weekend by the turnout for their first ever Red Dress Fashion Show, held in the Denali Room at Central Peninsula Hospital on Saturday.

Sleater said she estimated 90 to 100 people attended the show, which featured 24 local models regaled in custom red attire.

The event kicked off the month as a way to raise awareness about heart disease, and was used as a launching point to spread the word about a support group the two will begin in March.

The 24 local models were all "heart survivors" or family members of people with heart disease according to Sleater.

The event was part of the national "Go Red" campaign, sponsored by the American Heart Association.

Sleater and Rodgers are both a part of WomensHeart, a national non-profit group that advocates for heart disease prevention projects specifically targeted at women.

Both recently received training in the Lower 48 and will serve as community educators.

Sleater said she was pleased with the fashion show and said that despite the serious nature of the disease, the event was lighthearted.

She said she's even more excited for the start of a their cardiac patient support group, due to hold its first meeting on March 1.

The group is open to anyone who suffers from the wide array of ailments that fall under the umbrella of heart disease as well as to their family members, Sleater said, and will meet once a month at the hospital.

While disseminating information on nutrition and exercise will be a part of the group's mission, offering support will be a big part, as well.

"What people don't understand is that a major component of any life threatening disease is the emotional and mental element," Sleater said. "There's a great deal of depression from people suffering from life threatening diseases, therefore they feel alienated from their family and friends."

This will be the first group like this on mainland Alaska according to Sleater, and she expects interest to be high.

"We have a large population that potentially is suffering, and part of that is the fact that a very large group is our Native population," Sleater said. "There are certain ethnic groups that will suffer from these diseases more than others, and Native Americans and Alaska Natives fall into these high risk groups."

She added that the high cost of living here makes buying nutritious foods more expensive. That, combined with the sometimes-limited recreation opportunities available, can also lead to higher rates of heart disease.

"In Soldotna the area food bank is having to feed more people all the time, it's getting to epidemic proportions and that's a socio-economic issue," she said. "For the lower socio-economic strata, the majority of their diet is high fat, high sodium and high carbohydrate."

That combination can all help increase a person's risk of suffering from heart disease.

Unlike in the Lower 48, where similar groups sponsored by WomensHeart would be for women only, Sleater said the limited resources available here have lead them to open it to both men and women.

There is no charge to be a part of the group, and Sleater said it would be member driven.

"At our very first meeting we will have a serious talk with the participants. This has to be something that will benefit them," she said. "If they have specific needs we have to have their input and we will tailor our speakers to the patient needs."

For those interested in participating Sleater said to contact her at 398-7763.

Upcoming events highlight heart health

On Feb. 17 the Community Health Fair will be held at Kenai Peninsula College from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.. While the event is not targeted specifically for heart disease, relevant information will be available as well as blood pressure checks and $40 blood draws.

On March 22 Sharen Sleater and Jeanette Rodgers will offer a class through the Community Schools program on women's heart health.

The two will also be making a presentation at Curves in Soldotna at a date to be announced.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.

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