A Special to The Poly

EMPAC lights up for heart disease

MELISSA TOLOSKY RUSSOM AND HER DAUGHTER, CORA, LIGHT UP the Capital District with the flip of a switch on Thursday, February 5. The lighting ceremony, the day before the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign, was attended by local politicans, AHA representatives, and heart disease victims—like the Russoms—alike.

With the flip of a switch and a round of applause, 29 buildings in the Capital District were lit up in brilliant red to raise awareness of America’s number one killer, heart disease. Held on Thursday at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, representatives from the American Heart Association and numerous partnered companies and organizations joined together for this special lighting, which served as the kickoff for the 2015 AHA Go Red for Women campaign, urging people across the country to wear red Friday, February 6, to support heart health.

Heart disease is no doubt a killer, taking roughly one in three lives in both males and females, more than all forms of cancer combined. It includes not only heart failure, but carditis, when the heart or its surrounding membranes become inflamed; various dysrhythmias, when the heartbeat and related electrical signals are abnormal; valvular heart disease, when any of the heart valves function improperly; and many more afflictions. Since Go Red began, over 627,000 women have been saved from heart disease.

“We’re treating it well, but prevention is where the prize is,” said Joseph Sacco, M.D., chief of cardiology at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany and faculty at Albany Medical College. “The numbers say over 2,000 people die each day from heart disease. If three jumbo jets crashed each day, you’d think people would notice.”

Sacco stated that Go Red focuses on women’s cardiovascular health because for most of medical history, men took the spotlight, the public often writing it off as “an older man’s disease,” according to the AHA. This lead to an “oversimplified, distorted view of heart disease and risk, which has worked to the detriment of women.”

“Traditionally,” said Sacco, “because the thought was that heart disease was a men’s disease, the emphasis on looking for it was directed towards men when it really has to be across the board.”

Melissa Tolosky Russom, whose sister, Christie, died of an undiagnosed arrythmia known as long QT syndrome, spoke words of praise for the AHA. After her sister died, Russom and several family members had electrocardiograms that revealed long QT. Russom, her mother, and a cousin now have an implanted pacemaker, and Russom’s 9-month-old daughter, Cora, has taken medication since birth.

“When she was born, we had genetic testing done which confirmed long QT syndrome, and [the medicine] really makes us feel safe,” said Russom. “Cora, when you look at her, I don’t think looks much different than any other 9-month-old girl. She’s very curious, very active, very happy, and loves to talk. And she just happens to have long QT. She just happens to have a heart condition.”

Mother and daughter threw the switch together to light up the 29 buildings, which included four St. Peter’s Health Partners facilities—Albany Memorial Hospital, Samaritan Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital, and St. Peter’s Hospital. Also lit up were Albany Medical Center Hospital, Albany VA Hospital, Blueshield of Northeastern New York, Hudson Valley Community College, the Palace Theater, the Rensselaer Tech Park headquarters, the Sage Colleges, the SEFCU headquarters, and the Times Union Center.

The American Heart Association is a national non-profit organization that has funded over $3 billion in cardiovascular research—including $2.1 million in the Capital District. The association advocates heart health and stroke education and is one of two major certification bodies for CPR and related topics. Together with the American Red Cross, the AHA develops and publishes medical guidelines for first aid and resuscitation techniques.

Rensselaer has a longstanding relationship with the AHA and has lit EMPAC for the last several years and has been an annual host for the Capital Region Heart Walk.