This week I sat down with Dr Linda Worrall-Carter a former coronary nurse, Professor and award winning female entrepreneur and founder of Her Heart, a non-profit organisation that combines expert advice and information to increase awareness on the risks of heart disease in women.
I have a personal connection to heart disease. My husband’s parents have both been diagnosed with the illness. My father in law underwent a triple bypass making a full recovery, however my mother in law suffers from a certain form of arrhythmia for which there is no treatment.
I was inspired to reach out to Linda after discovering her amazing work and when I realised how little I knew about heart health in women.Did you know that 1 in 3 women will die of heart disease? That’s 1 woman dies every hour from heart disease in Australia, 24 every day. And that you’re more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer. The statistics are shocking.
In this interview we talk about, the inspiration behind Her Heart Charity, what gives her the drive to keep going, 3 things people should think about before creating their own NFP, her personal morning routine and so much more.
So let’s start at the beginning of our conversation and start with the inspiration behind Her Heart.
What inspired you to create Her Heart? Was there a catalyst that sparked the idea within you?
In the early days of caring for patients in coronary care I noticed very few women were being cared for and over the course of the years I’ve come to realise why. They died before they got there.
After caring for cardiac patients, and teaching cardiac nursing, I started doing research in this area 15 years ago, after being invited to set up a centre for nursing research in Australia. In the US they’ve been doing research around women and heart disease for the last 50 years however it was important to get some Australian data and statistics. We know already that 1 in 8 women will die of breast cancer, 1 in 6 of a stroke but heart disease is not on women’s radar at all and we are losing 1 woman every hour, that’s over 24 women per day in Australia which is just tragic.
We lose 1 woman every hour to heart disease in Australia, that’s over 24 women per day which is tragic.Click To Tweet
From the research I discovered it wasn’t just a lack of awareness, there were physiological differences and an educational issue. Women actually present differently to men as they experience different symptoms. They get shortness of breath, pain into their jaw, through to their back not like men who get the “Hollywood” heart attack with chest pain and pain down the arm.
Women often delay getting treatment because they are busy looking after everyone else, whether this be children or other family members. They don’t prioritise their own needs first and which compounds when they do ask for help and don’t receive it. For example, in more than one study women told us they repeatedly went to their GP. There is definitely a lack of awareness in the professional community with GP’s, Doctors and Nurses and it needs to be addressed. In addition women are likely to receive less diagnostic tests and women’s recovery rates are worse – as women are twice more likely to die in their first year of a heart attack.
All in all they are shocking statistics and realised research alone was not going to save lives. In order to reduce the burden of heart disease and make a major impact, it required a change in attitudes and behaviours. I could see that a more hands on approach is needed to drive change and create awareness.
I think that looking back there were some catalysts to me making my decision to set up Her Heart. One was in 2014, when the World Congress of Cardiology Conference was held in Melbourne along with the 4th International Conference on Women and Heart Disease. While there was some research to showcase, I could see that we needed to create more engaging programs around Women and Heart Disease. There was clearly a gap and I can recall asking myself what was the point of doing all the research if women have no idea that it’s their biggest killer?
In early 2015 I resigned from my job as Professor of Cardiac Nursing at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, a joint position with The Australian Catholic University. I had some experience with establishing research centres as I had held the position of Academic Director of the Cardiovascular Research Centre and Director of The Centre for Nursing Research. However, I had no knowledge of how to set up a charity and took some time off to do this and we launched in June 2015.
How does Her Heart build on your sense of personal purpose and fulfilment?
We have a very big goal to achieve. We want to reduce the death toll by 50% by 2025. While some people might say it’s not achievable, to me if something is 80% preventable (which heart disease in women is), then it shouldn’t be that difficult. Ten years ago in the U.S. they had the same heart disease statistics as us. Now one woman dies every minute which is staggering.We have a very big goal to achieve. We want to reduce the death toll by 50% by 2025.Click To Tweet
We know from the obesity epidemic and the decreasing levels of exercise that the statistics are getting worse. There’s also influencers such as Jamie Oliver who is challenging Australia to get a Sugar Tax due to the rise in chronic diseases such as Diabetes. We know that diabetes doubles the risk of heart disease in men, but did you know that it triples the risk of heart disease in women? The statistics are always worse for women. However, it’s not a bad news story. When something is 80% preventable it’s then about managing risk factors such as a family history of heart disease and lifestyle changes. It requires a different way of thinking, creating good habits and honestly there’s so much scope. Yes it might a big goal. But I believe we can reach it. We need to get heart disease on women’s radars over time to be able to make those small behaviour changes.
What gives you the drive to keep going?
I am a “doer” as I come from a family of nurses and I think we just get on with the task at hand. I also enjoy thinking about how things can be done differently, so thinking outside the square. I’m also not afraid to have big goals. When I first arrived at St Vincent’s there was a lot of interest in doing research and I can recall saying to the Cardiologists that they should think about setting up a cardiovascular research centre. They told me that had also been thinking about it for 10 years, I said well 10 years is a long time! So let’s do it and we set one up within a year, that linked two Universities and created opportunities to work together.
In my career and the industry I worked in, I have been surrounded by very strong processes which mean that there’s not a lot of creativity as hospitals can be pretty risk averse. However, I was fortunate to have a great team and also been fortunate to work with some great people in the Cardiology space who weren’t afraid to think outside the square and take risks.
My Mum has also been a big influence in my life. She is someone who is fearless and coming from a working class family if things ever got difficult, then I could see that she would just find another way around them in order to be able to achieve what she needed to do. So I credit her with me being able to work around issues, not see road blocks but challenges that can be overcome in some way.
I think having support structures is critical and I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive family. But I also know that mindset and in particular, gratitude is really important. I’ve always been big on gratitude. I have two daughters and used to ask them from a young age to talk not only about what had happened at school but what they have been grateful for. I follow this up at night and in my mind I go through 3 things that I am grateful for.Having support structures is critical. But I also know that mindset and gratitude is really important.Click To Tweet
What has been a highlight of the journey so far?
At the end of 2015 I was a winner in the Female Entrepreneur Awards and Her Heart won the Casey Kinnaird Community Award which was lovely. I think I was especially touched by this because in a short time we got charity status, which is DGR status that allows for people to donate and we got this within three months which is apparently unheard of. We also went global, and had over 5000 website visitors a month in over 55 countries. So this recognition for the work was just wonderful and I think it clearly demonstrates the great need for this information worldwide. Also, while it was wonderful to experience the recognition, for me it’s all about getting the message out there in whatever shape or form.
We are part of a global community and very fortunate to have the support of Dr Noel Bairey-Merz from Cedars Sinai Hospital in the US, who has Barbara Streisand as her ambassador. I know in the UK Pippa Middleton has come on board to support the British Heart Foundation and their promotion of women and heart disease.
How does the work of Her Heart serve a higher purpose?
I think while we are all about saving women’s lives I can see that it’s more than that now. Having spoken to women about the reasons why they delay in getting treatment, why they feel they aren’t being heard if they’ve been to their Doctor. It’s more about the empowerment of women and giving them a voice.We need to say to women, “put yourself first.” And give them the tools and education to be able to do that. Click To Tweet
In terms of risk, we know that it only takes 1 risk factor. The studies that have been done when women are admitted in the emergency department show 90% of heart attacks occur with only 1 risk factor. But the reality is that many women have 2 or 3 risk factors. I have a family history but I’ve known about this for 20 years and have been mindful of making lifestyle changes. Some people might not have even thought about the fact that their Mother, Father, Uncle, Brother or Sister has a history with heart disease. I really think awareness is key, its tangible, something you can hang your hat on and think I need to do something about that if your history also includes stroke, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Having said all this, I am very mindful of always telling women what they should be doing, when many of them are doing a million things and trying to juggle and wear so many hats. So while we are connecting women around the world I want to say “Put yourself first and go and get checked out”.
Thinking back over your career / journey what has been the greatest lesson?
I would say not to give up. I was amazed to hear that 95% of start-ups fail. I also think that charities (while clearly there are some differences) are also like start-ups, they’re businesses and we need to have a different way of thinking. So I would say to people not to get discouraged. Persistence is the key. I really think you need to think about who you take advice from. As Jim Rohn says you become like the people you spend the most time with. Try and surround yourself with people who lift and motivate you because it is a journey. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon and you’ve got to be able to think about how you can sustain things over a long period of time. How you look after your mental health and wellbeing is critical. I know people have questioned why we need another charity around heart disease, and I have said, “because all these women are dying at a horrendous rate and isn’t that a good enough reason?” So to me it is interesting as this is a no brainer, I can see how it would be particularly challenging if you haven’t got a big “why”.
What 3 things should people think about before creating their own Not For Profit?
1. Financial Support. Making sure you have enough financial support that you can survive for 2 years. I think sometimes we can get carried away with our passions. You don’t always think when you’re so passionate about the practical side of things. And if you aren’t great with numbers then find someone who is.
2. Think Differently. I was staggered when I found out there were 60,000 charities in Australia and 1 charity for every 4 children. You need to think about how you are going to stand out to get your message across.
3. Invest in yourself. Your biggest investment is in yourself, be part of a community. Get a coach if you can afford it. In terms of advisors I think it’s important to get people from different areas – business, finance, media/marketing, whether they are mentors or people that you actually listen to and you value their advice. You might not like what they have to say but listen to it and be really aware of what they are telling you. This group will be really important to you throughout the journey because you will experience highs and lows and having a support network will make all the difference. Remember your Network is your Net Worth!!
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d like to be remembered as someone who was kind and thoughtful and who made a difference for women.I’d like to be remembered as someone who was kind and thoughtful and who made a difference for women.Click To Tweet
If you could give one piece of advice what would it be and why?
Try and put yourself first and not get so stressed, so don’t sweat the small stuff. Women have a tendency to put others needs before their own (and I’m no different) but it doesn’t allow you to enjoy the journey and smell the roses along the way. Carve out some time in the day for yourself. Ideally take 30 minutes twice per day and make sure you also get some exercise. Just half an hour walking everyday can make a significant difference. There is such a strong link between physical and mental health that I now can’t live without my exercise. Also, the key is not to make it all too hard, make things easy so plan for it in your daily schedule.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual you follow?
I meditate every morning and I know everybody says it but it really has completely transformed my life. I do it consistently. I do it before I get out of bed. I put my headphones in and I’m away. I have a good breakfast as it important to have fuel in your body so I never skip it. I also listen to an inspirational Podcast while heading to work or exercising, I listen to one every day.
A few of my favourite bonus questions with Linda.
Who or what is your favourite:
Musician: I love Adele, such a strong woman!
Author: Thrive by Arianna Huffington changed the way I think about reliance on technology and the importance of sleep
Mantra or Quote: “Be true to you” … we all need to believe in ourselves and become our strongest advocate!“Be true to you” … we all need to believe in ourselves and become our strongest advocate!Click To Tweet
Thank you for being here and consciously choosing to explore the different ways that ordinary people are living extraordinary lives by serving a higher purpose through their daily work. Everything we do here at Your Legacy Project is designed to inspire and empower you to live your legacy and bring your unique talents to life.
I’d love to know are you part of one of the 60,000 charities in Australia? Have you ever thought that you’d like to found one? I’d love to know what your desires are and how we can support you in bringing them to life!
Hundreds of people visit this site each week and you’ll never know the difference you can make in the lives of others by sharing your own personal experience, dreams and goals. Please share your thoughts about this interview and of course all comments are welcome 🙂 I can’t wait to read them.
And remember, Live With Purpose.