University of South Florida

USF Health focuses on women and heart disease, launches new program

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Katie Pemble was trim, did not smoke and lived what she considered a healthy lifestyle.

“Do I look like a heart attack waiting to happen?”  Pemble, 50, asked the audience gathered Feb. 3 at CAMLS for the USF Health Women’s Heart Health Luncheon.

Today, Pemble, 50, the Florida market president of C1 Bank and chair of the American Heart Association Tampa Bay Metro Board, counts herself lucky to be alive.

She was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a weakened and enlarged heart, at age 34.  The condition emerged without recognition in the final months of pregnancy, and progressed to full-blown congestive heart failure soon after Pemble was discharged from the hospital following the birth of her daughter.

At home, the new mother awoke one evening unable to breathe and was rushed to the emergency room. The ER doctor told her family she “probably would not make it through the night.”

But, Pemble did survive. Today, she is a leading advocate for women’s heart health, supporter of the American Heart Association’s “Go Red” campaign, and part of a national movement to shift the focus in heart disease to women, who bear a greater burden of the disease than men.

“Today, even though many women know that heart disease is the number one killer of women, too many still don’t believe it’s their personal number one threat,” she said.


L to R: Dr. Arthur Labovitz, chair of Cardiovascular Sciences at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine; Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health and medical school dean; and heart disease survivor Katie Pemble.

At the USF Women’s Heart Health Luncheon, she shared her story with a room full of business and community leaders, primarily women, who attended the event sponsored by USF Health in partnership with Tampa General Hospital and Florida Hospital Pepin Heart Institute.

The event included cardiologists and a nurse researcher from the newly launched Women’s Heart Health Center at USF Health, an outpatient program with both North and South campus locations. The program, specifically designed for women, offers aggressive management of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, as well as help women diagnosed with heart disease to improve outcomes and quality of life.  Educational outreach and clinical research will also be available.

“Once upon a time, heart disease was felt to be a man’s disease only, but we have learned over the past decade that more women suffer and die from heart disease than men. We also now know that their symptoms and presentation tend to be strikingly different from that of men,” said Arthur Labovitz, MD, chair of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and co-director of the USF Health Heart Institute.

Scientists and physicians at the USF Health Heart Institute will be part of the national movement to help sort out the differences in cardiovascular diseases between men and women.  Understanding those differences can help improve diagnosis and treatment for all.


Tampa Bay area business and community leaders gathered Feb. 3 for the Women’s Heart Health Luncheon, an event sponsored by USF Health in partnership with Tampa General Hospital and Florida Hospital Pepin Heart Institute.

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Despite an “emotionally taxing” first year following her diagnosis, Pemble’s heart recovered its pumping capacity.  The life-changing experience set the stage for disciplined adherence to changes in lifestyle. She began to eat healthier, drink more water, and run 2 to 3 miles several times a week. And, the busy back executive who acknowledges a “Type A” personality makes a conscious effort every day to reduce stress.

In hindsight, Pemble said, the occasional shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and swelling that began in her second trimester were red flags attributed as symptoms of a normal pregnancy. In hindsight she would have been more insistent with her doctor about checking out the symptoms.

Now, Pemble wants more women – and the men who care about them – to recognize that heart disease is the number 1 killer of women and what can be done to reduce the risk.   She emphasizes that with increased awareness and strong preventive measures, even genetic predisposition does not mean heart disease is destiny.

“It’s important to know your body and if you notice that it feels or behaves differently, follow your instincts to tell (a health care professional) that something is wrong,” she said. “Know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, and be prepared to take action when they change.”


Dr. Catherine Lynch, , associate vice president for Women’s Health, was among the USF Health leaders who welcomed the audience.

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Theresa Beckie, PhD, professor of nursing and cardiology at USF Health, studies gender differences in heart disease and is particularly interested in teasing out the physiological, environmental and psychosocial factors contributing to the uptick in young women (ages 35-54) with heart disease. She co-chairs an AHA expert panel developing a scientific statement on heart attacks in women.

While overall cardiovascular death rates have declined since 2001, today one in three women suffers some form of cardiovascular disease.

Unique symptoms in women include non-central chest pain, weakness and, most commonly, unusual fatigue — unlike the classic “Hollywood style” heart attack with intense chest pain and left arm discomfort experienced more often by men.  Yet, half of all women who die suddenly from a heart attack never reported symptoms, and women who survive a heart attack are more likely than men to die within a year of its onset, Dr. Beckie said.  For reasons not yet understood risk factors for heart disease like smoking, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome appear to have even worse consequences for women than men, she added.


Katie Pemble, Florida Market President of C1 Bank and chair of the Tampa Bay Metro Board, American Heart Association, shared her personal story to help raise awareness about heart disease in women — and how it differs from that in men.

Results of past heart-related clinical trials, done mostly on men, do not always apply to women. Different diagnostic tests may be needed for women as well.  While medicine does a good job of diagnosing the larger coronary artery blockages more likely to develop in men, Dr. Beckie said, early research suggests women are prone to microvascular disease all along their blood vessels — tiny diffuse lesions undetected by cardiac catheterization.

“Young women with coronary heart disease represent a particularly high risk, understudied group with stark health disparities in hospital complications, readmissions and mortality following medical therapies driven largely by a male model of heart disease,” she said.  “Given that premature heart disease embodies excess years of disability and kills more young women than breast cancer, grasping the reasons for the disparate health outcomes in this vulnerable population is essential.”


L to R: Speakers Dr. Theresa Beckie, Dr. Olga Kristof-Kuteyeva, Dr. Arzu Ilercil and Dr. Angela McClanahan. All are faculty members who are staffing the new USF Health Women’s Heart Health Center.

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In addition to Pemble and Dr. Beckie, the other luncheon featured speakers were:

– Olga Kristof-Kuteyeva, MD, assistant professor of cardiology, who addressed cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease.

– Arzu Ilercil, MD, professor of cardiology, who spoke about diagnosing heart disease in women.

– Angela McClanahan, MD, assistant professor of cardiology, who discussed how healthy lifestyles, including exercise, diet and stress reduction, can help reduce heart disease risk and improve outcomes.

To make an appointment at the USF Health Women’s Heart Health Center, please call (813) 353-0248.





 Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications

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