Anesthesiologist on mission to help women with heart disease
June Duck M.D., board-certified in anesthesiology and pediatrics, led a hectic life as a full-time anesthesiologist and chairwoman of the Department of Anesthesiology at CentraState Medical Center, Freehold Township, plus wife and mother of two. She initially began feeling fatigued, but kept up with work, family obligations and daily workouts. She recalls one day in 2004 having difficulty using the weight machines at her gym and assumed that the machines had been adjusted the day before. She also noticed that when she took the steps she was short of breath when she reached the top, even though she never used an elevator.
“Even though I was a physician, I had symptoms of heart disease yet didn’t recognize it, and like most women assumed it was something to address later, when there was more time,” explains Dr. Duck.
Dr. Duck ate a healthy diet; exercised daily; had no hypertension; her cholesterol was normal; and had no family history heart disease.“Many of my colleagues chalked it up to a stressful life, so I took an island vacation and noticed I was short of breath walking on the beach. It was then I knew my problems were more than being too busy.”
Dr. Duck’s primary care physician, Leslie Sojka M.D., board-certified in internal medicine, sent her for a battery of tests; all of which she knew could reveal a fatal condition. Having been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at about the same time made diagnosing her heart disease difficult. Eventually she was diagnosed with what was thought to be exercise-induced asthma. She modified her lifestyle, but was still feeling sick. In 2006, while at the hospital, she began to have a fluttering in her chest, which developed into a heavy feeling and pain shooting down her left arm. She asked a nurse to get a wheelchair and take her to the emergency room.Tests revealed that the asthma medication had caused her chest pain and an abnormal EKG, so she went for a cardiac catheterization, but her arteries were clear. She went to New York City and Philadelphia for more tests, but doctors couldn’t diagnose her condition. “My primary care physician was persistent in trying to get me help and one day called me to his office to listen to a woman’s interview on NPR.The woman described my condition perfectly and I knew immediately that I needed to see her physician at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles.”
At Cedars Sinai, Dr. Noel Bairey Merz completed a cardiac catheterization with provocative testing and determined Dr. Duck had micro vascular disease (MVD), the worst she had ever seen. While the NIH has been studying MVD for more than 20 years, Dr. Duck acknowledges that little is still known about the disease and doctors need to study women and heart disease and women need to become advocates for their health.“So many women are guilty of putting their own health on a back burner, while they work, care for their families and take care of other responsibilities. Women present with heart disease in ways different from men and therefore need to stop ignoring those niggling concerns that something is not quite right, just as I did.”
Fatigue, shortness of breath, indigestion or any pain above the waist, and cold/hot sweats are common warning signs of heart disease in women.“I had all of the classic symptoms, yet chalked it up to my busy lifestyle.”
During a hospitalization for her MVD in February 2010, Dr. Duck grew frustrated that there were women walking around not knowing what to do about their heart disease.“I realized then that I needed to start a Women’s Heart Program right here at CentraState,” she said.
Working with CentraState’s Foundation, Dr. Duck has helped to secure funding to start the Women’s Heart Program. She has also formed a team of specialists from pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, rheumatology, pulmonology, cardiology, anesthesiology, family practice and emergency room physicians to serve on an advisory board to work on addressing women’s heart disease with medical director and board-certified cardiologist Divya Menon M.D.
“Working with Cedars Sinai, we developed the Women’s Heart Program modeled after the Barbara Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedar Sinai.We are training our staff on protocols used at their heart center.”
Dr. Duck’s hard work will come to fruition on Feb. 18, 2013 with the opening of the Women’s Heart Program — For the Heart of Women at the CentraState Medical Center.
While Dr. Duck recognizes that despite her healthy lifestyle before her diagnosis, she was at the same risk of a heart attack as a person with diabetes, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease. Since her diagnosis, with the help of her doctors, she is managing these risks. She is determined to do what she can to help other women. “Heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined, yet 80 percent of heart disease deaths are preventable. I want to do what I can to help lower that mortality rate.”
While suffering daily from chest pain and still occasionally going to the emergency room with what she calls status “anginitis,” Dr. Duck still exercises daily, choosing walking, yoga and water aerobics, and is vigilant about her diet. Some days her fatigue and pain keep her in bed all day and other days she spends fighting against heart disease for herself and other women.