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NHLBI Hosts National Cardiovascular Health Conference

By Louise Williams

Challenge and partnership. Those were the key themes at a recent 3-day national conference of health care professionals that sought new ways to reverse the U.S. epidemic of cardiovascular disease.

As one speaker said: "This meeting isn't meant to be just a status report. We're not just saying, look, there's the mountain, we're asking you to climb it."

NHLBI director Dr. Claude Lenfant described the conference as "a crucial link between the knowledge we have gained about the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease and actually putting that knowledge into practice in communities."

"Talk show" participants discuss ways to improve peoples' cardiovascular health. They include (from l) Jack Valenti, Irene Pollin, Aracely Rosales, Peter Cribb and Paul Berry.

Called "Cardiovascular Health for All: Meeting the Challenge of Healthy People 2010," the conference drew about 1,300 health care professionals to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. But many more participated via 150 satellite downlink sites in 41 states, the District and Canada, or watched the plenary and other sessions online on videocast.

The conference itself illustrated the partnership theme: It was sponsored by NHLBI in collaboration with the American Heart Association and the HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Health Resources and Services Administration. Further, the opening session included a signing by the groups' representatives of a memorandum of understanding to work collaboratively to help achieve the federal Healthy People 2010 objectives for heart disease and stroke.

As HHS assistant secretary for health Dr. Eve Slater told the gathering, the task of achieving the HP 2010 goals was a shared responsibility and represents the only way research advances would be translated into improved cardiovascular health for communities everywhere.

The HP 2010 objectives provided the conference's framework. The four plenary sessions were each devoted to a main cardiovascular goal, with another covering health disparities. Sixty-two breakout sessions then covered the objectives in more depth.

Conference participants share ideas at one of the many small group sessions.

The need for action was underscored in the conference's keynote address, given by futurist J. Ian Morrison, chairman of the Health Futures Forum. He warned the assemblage that changes in the health care industry will probably increase the number of uninsured Americans. At the same time, he said, an aging population is driving up the already high demand for cardiovascular disease care. He urged participants to "redefine health care," including an expanded use of the Internet to give consumers more access to health information, doctors and community health resources.

Other presentations included new data on women and heart attack. Dr. Jean McSweeney of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences studied nearly 650 women and found that warning signs can develop up to 2 years before a heart attack. The early warning signs include fatigue, shortness of breath, disturbed sleep, indigestion and anxiety.

Another speaker, Dr. Joseph Ornato of Virginia Commonwealth University, outlined a novel approach to get more Americans to seek the fast treatment necessary for a heart attack. Research has shown that patient delay is the main reason Americans don't benefit from the latest life-saving heart attack therapies. Patients often delay out of fear of causing a scene. With Ornato's approach, paramedics would respond to an emergency call by arriving quietly, rather than in a siren-blasting ambulance. The paramedics would administer a 15-minute test and, if a heart attack is occurring, summon an ambulance. Otherwise, the patient would remain at home but wear an automatic external defibrillator until able to be checked by his or her regular doctor.

But speakers didn't do all the work. Meeting organizers challenged each participant to "think outside your own box," as conference chair Dr. Lynn Smaha of the Guthrie Clinic Ltd. and past president of the American Heart Association put it. The conference provided many opportunities for sharing ideas through grand round and roundtable sessions, as well as posters.

And, to be sure participants didn't just talk heart health, but also lived it, the conference hosted such activities as a "Heart-Stirring Extravaganza" and a "Fun Run."

The conference closed with a "talk show" about ways to improve the cardiovascular health of oneself and one's community. Former Washington ABC-TV news anchor, now a media consultant, Paul Berry moderated a panel consisting of Jack Valenti, Motion Picture Association of America president and CEO; Irene Pollin, chairperson of Sister to Sister; Aracely Rosales of Rosales Communications; and Peter Cribb, program director for the Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health at the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research in Texas.

The conference's main sessions can be viewed online at or through a special post-conference web page, which will be at

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