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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Heart and Soul

When Julie Stucki was born, she was one of seven babies in the neonatal intensive care unit with tetralogy of Fallot, a rare congenital heart defect. All of the babies died — except for Stucki. Thirty-three years and four open-heart surgeries later, the Evansville resident works as a cardiac rehab exercise specialist at The Heart Hospital, where she helps other heart disease survivors improve their well-being. This fall, Stucki earned a new title: WomenHeart Champion, which places her among a select group of women nationwide who are trained to educate their communities about prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of women’s heart disease.

After an intensive application process, Stucki was accepted to and attended WomenHeart’s Science and Leadership Symposium at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The four-day event in October drew female heart disease survivors from across the nation to participate in activities ranging from a red wine cocktail hour to anatomy lessons to classes in meditation and relaxation. Of the 53 attendees, Stucki was the youngest, but the group was diverse: One woman from California, a 41-year-old fitness buff who was “skinny as can be,” Stucki recalls, suffered a massive heart attack that doctors passed off as everything from lung problems to swallowing a bug. Another woman in her 40s, convinced she was experiencing symptoms of heart disease, visited four doctors before obtaining a correct diagnosis.

Stucki’s own history and her fellow WomenHeart Champions taught her that heart disease doesn’t discriminate, and that’s the message she hopes to spread with the help of Dr. Prasanna Yalamanchili, a physician with The Heart Group. “Women have to be aware that it’s not just a man’s disease,” says Yalamanchili, describing the stereotypical heart disease patient: an overweight, male smoker over 50 with hypertension. But WomenHeart notes that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, killing more than one-third of women in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, that’s more than breast cancer and all other cancers combined. 

To raise awareness, Stucki and Yalamanchili have planned numerous activities and projects: presentations, a presence at Feb. 19’s Day of Dance, and more. For Stucki, the WomenHeart symposium helped shape those programs and her passion for advocacy. “I sleep with a notepad beside my bed,” Stucki says. “This always has been a dream. I just never had the tools to carry it out.”

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