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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 1:46 am | Fair 45º


Health Care Bills By Rep. Capps Gain House Committee Support

One of the measures, addressing heart disease in women, hits close to home for Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf.

A health-care bill addressing heart disease in women sponsored by Rep. Lois Capps passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, setting the stage to, among other things, add 30 more states to the 20 that already offer free cardiovascular disease screenings for low-income women, the Capps administration said.

Co-written by Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wy., the Heart Disease Education, Research and Analysis, and Treatment (HEART) for Women Act could see action on the House floor as early as next week. The bill would dedicate $204 million to the cause.

In addition, a second health-care-related bipartisan bill co-authored by Capps passed the committee Wednesday, one that focuses on improving care for Americans suffering pain. Both pieces of legislation were introduced in 2007.

“These measures would help millions of Americans suffering from these extremely serious health conditions,” Capps, a registered nurse, said in a statement. “I hope we can get both bills on the president’s desk for signature soon.”

Until the past few years, heart disease had long been thought of as a man’s disease. It isn’t: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women alike, and in recent years, while the number of heart-disease deaths has declined among men, it has held steady or risen among women, according to the Society for Women’s Health Research, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization. 

One local high-profile woman who can attest to the dangers of heart disease is Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf, who in December 2004 suffered a heart attack at age 50.

Wolf, who recounted her story to the House committee a few months ago, was eating dinner with friends on a Friday night when she began to experience what felt like indigestion.

That weekend, a doctor-prescribed medication for indigestion proved ineffective, and by the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning, Wolf’s pain was becoming unbearable. That morning, she researched a Web site called WebMD for more clues, and concluded she must be having a heart attack.

At 5 a.m., she woke her husband and they left for the emergency room. The couple left a note on the table telling their youngest daughter — who was still in high school at the time — where they had gone, and that they should be back before school started.

By the time they arrived at Cottage Hospital, Wolf was having a massive heart attack.

Instead of filling out the requisite forms in the waiting room, Wolf simply told the receptionist she couldn’t do it and walked straight into the emergency room. Had Wolf waited much longer, she may have died: Her heart was working at 10 percent capacity.

“If I didn’t get in, that would have been it,” she said.

Wolf’s main artery — called the left anterior descending artery (LAD) — was blocked. She received a stint. Immediately upon her return home, Wolf said she decided to warn as many women as possible about the dangers of heart disease.

As often happens with women, Wolf’s symptoms were different than the more traditional ones typically experienced by men, according to recent research. 

“Like my husband said, ‘You didn’t grab your chest and fall over,’” she said. “They always talk about feeling pain in your left or right arm. I didn’t really have that. The only thing I felt was this horrible feeling of indigestion.”

Whereas it is more typical for men to experience pain in the center of the chest or arms, women sometimes tend to become extremely tired or weak. They also may notice symptoms, such as indigestion, much sooner, according to LifeBeat Online, a newsletter for patients with cardiac devices. 

As for Capps’ heart-disease bill, it would do more than expand the footprint of the free screening program, which, called WISEWOMAN, is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also would require drug and medical-device companies to provide to the Food and Drug Administration a breakdown on gender and race detailing how the different groups responded to tests. If no such studies have occurred, the companies must disclose that information to the FDA, as well.

In addition, the bill authorizes grants to educate doctors about the unique aspects of preventing, diagnosing and treating women with heart disease. 

Meanwhile, Capps’ pain care bill was co-authored by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.

Called the National Pain Care Policy Act, the bill would combat pain in four ways: by authorizing an Institute of Medicine Conference on Pain Care; improving the coordination of pain research at the National Institutes of Health; providing comprehensive pain care education and training for health care professionals; and by instituting a public awareness campaign on pain management.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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