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Heart champions from Albany being sought

ALBANY — A new program is coming to Georgia, and the Albany area, in hopes of curbing the current heart disease trend with women heart patients themselves being at the forefront of the movement.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, and women in Georgia die at a rate of 9 percent higher than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In light of that, 40 Georgia women living with heart disease — some from the Albany area — will be trained to become volunteer WomenHeart Champions who will return to their communities to educate women about heart health and lead patient support networks, thanks to a grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia Foundation.

The program is being coordinated by WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.

Participating in the WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium will be the first step in the training process. To be held Feb. 17-20 at the Emory Conference Center Hotel in Atlanta, the three-day event will feature national and local experts in cardiology, women's health and communications.

The application process for women heart disease survivors interested in becoming WomenHeart Champions is now open and continues through Jan. 18.

The symposium is modeled after the nationally renowned WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium held at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and sponsored by WomenHeart, which since 2002 has trained nearly 600 WomenHeart Champions and established 100 WomenHeart support networks throughout the country.

"WomenHeart Champions are making a difference in the lives of women throughout the country," said Lisa M. Tate, CEO of WomenHeart, in a news release. "We are thrilled to bring this program to Georgia because nearly 45 percent of WomenHeart Champions have been credited with saving a life and now women in Georgia will have the opportunity to have a significant impact on their heart sisters, as well.

"We are grateful to our sponsor, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia Foundation, for making this program possible. Their support means that the women of Georgia will be able to fight back against the leading cause of death in women, and empower them to take charge of their heart health."

Currently, many women in Georgia are at significant risk of developing heart disease with 27 percent having high blood pressure, 47 percent having high cholesterol, 19 percent smoking, 27 percent being obese and 60 percent being physically inactive, state public health officials report.

"We have a serious need here in Georgia for a program like this," said Morgan Kendrick, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, in a statement. "This model provides us the unique opportunity to develop a volunteer force of women with heart disease who will conduct community education and establish support groups throughout Georgia.

"Our mission is to improve the lives of those we serve and the health of our communities, and we feel strongly that this program will enhance our efforts in these areas."

The group of 40 women will be from 10 communities in Georgia and selected through a statewide application process to participate in the training program. The cities participants will be coming from, aside from Albany, are Atlanta, Johns Creek, Marietta, Athens, Macon, Augusta, Columbus, Savannah and Valdosta.

The program seeks participation from a diverse group of women and encourages women of all ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, native languages, income and education levels to apply.

Visit www.womenheart.org to access the application.