|LCA member, Dr. Annabelle Volgman|
vowed to wear red until fewer women were dying of heart disease than men.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world, and more women die from it than men. Dr. Volgman made it her life’s work to figure out why. She created the Rush Heart Center for Women in 2003, where patients are treated individually and holistically. (She treats men, too.) Nutrition, exercise, medicines, surgery and counseling reverse heart disease in 80 percent of her patients.
“It’s not enough to prescribe beta blockers and send them home. I listen, and I don’t dismiss the non-medical. I make a point to touch, to hug. I want my young doctors to see that it’s okay to be warm, to ask about family, to ask about work, to ask ‘Why is your blood pressure so high today? What’s going on?” The Rush Heart Center for Women isn’t so much a place as it is a way of practicing medicine. Patients meet with a doctor, nurse practitioner, dietician and specialists, such as psychologists who treat obesity, anxiety, depression. “What we eat and what we do can cause heart disease,” she notes. Dr. Volgman sees 1,000 heart center patients annually, six days per week. She formalized care for women because patients were arriving in dangerously poor health, their symptoms misdiagnosed or ignored by other doctors because the standard of care was designed for men.
A ten year National Institutes of Health study completed in 2006 showed that, in women, cholesterol plaque spreads evenly throughout the artery wall; an angiogram would read clear. Symptoms are unlike the “Hollywood” heart attack men tend to experience. Instead, there’s a constellation of small warnings: fatigue, pain, shortness of breath, indigestion. Treatment is the same: a combination of diet and exercise, medicines, surgery. The challenge is to educate physicians and women to recognize these symptoms as signs of heart disease.
Dr. Volgman grew up in the Philippines, surrounded by extended family. As a girl, she kept company and ran small errands for relatives enfeebled by disease. By age eight, she decided to become a doctor. At 12 she emigrated with her family to New York City, where she she tested into a top public school, a life-changing experience.
She and Keith have been married 27 years. Son Robert, 23, is a stock options trader and graduate of Brown University. Daughter Caroline, 19, is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University.
|Daughter Caroline, now 19, playing near Bauler Park as a child.|
Dr. Volgman cooks for family and friends, reads with a book club, walks the lakefront, kayaks. She’s an opera buff, theater goer, dance fan. Above all, she loves to travel, to experience different cultures. She runs on very little sleep and is known for late night emails offering life advice or research topics.