CARIBOU, Maine — Although most people are not aware of it, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the country. In Aroostook County, the incidence of heart disease and stroke are among the highest in the nation.
On Tuesday, officials at Cary Medical Center announced a partnership with the AstraZeneca Healthcare Foundation that they believe will help address the growing problem.
During a press conference at the hospital, Kris Doody, chief executive officer of the Caribou hospital, announced that the foundation has awarded the hospital a $187,000 grant to address cardiovascular disease in The County. The money comes from the foundation’s Connections for Cardiovascular Health program.
Doody said the hospital would use the money to encourage healthful eating, including encouraging consumers to focus on a plant-based diet approach. The money also will fund a variety of health promotion efforts designed to improve the public’s knowledge about the risk factors for heart disease.
According to Doody, staff from Cary and from the Aroostook Mental Health Center will travel to the Cleveland Clinic next month to attend a seminar with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, author of “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.” Esselstyn is director of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. After the session, project staff including Cary nurse Hope Walton and Dr. Julie Maxson, a psychologist at AMHC, will counsel patients interested in a plant-based diet to prevent and reverse heart disease.
A plant-based diet encourages filling your plate with vegetables, fruits, legumes and other healthful proteins and not eating meat. It encourages eating organic, locally grown foods over frozen, processed foods. Former President Bill Clinton announced last year that he had turned to a plant-based diet after heart surgery. He credited the diet with helping him lose 24 pounds.
As part of the project, a half-hour television program titled “Let’s Talk Health” will be produced and aired on WAGM-TV and Fox 8. It will focus on risk factors involved in heart disease and will educate the public about the benefits of healthful nutrition. A Healthy Heart Club will be created for people who would like to learn more about heart health through Web-based programs, contests and incentives. The program will work closely with Healthy You, a health promotion program offered by Cary and directed by Kim Jones.
The hospital initiated Healthy You in response to feedback from focus groups conducted in Aroostook County. The program offers high-quality, accessible health and wellness programs to residents in central and northern Aroostook County. Local programs and ongoing education are provided through online resources, direct mail, contests and other promotions. Topics covered include financial planning, caregiver support, parenting, disease prevention, personal enrichment, holistic medicine, aging, prescription assistance, stress management and nutrition.
Thousands of people have participated in Healthy You programs over the past three years.
Doody pointed out that cardiovascular disease and stroke have been major problems in Aroostook County for years and that the grant award will help create a more informed public.
“We believe that this grant award will provide for a wealth of information and resources to people, expose them to a different nutritional approach and encourage individuals to make healthy choices that will become a way of life,” she said.
Doody said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services have identified The County as having some of the highest heart disease death rates in the country.
According to state statistics, the hospitalization rate for heart disease and strokes per 10,000 residents was 57.1 percent in 2005, compared with a statewide rate of 29.2 percent.
That same year, deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease were 286.8 per 100,000 population in Aroostook, compared with 242.7 per 100,000 statewide.
Each minute, someone in the United States dies from heart disease. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include inactivity, obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.
The hospital will bring local restaurants on board with the program by partnering with them to establish “healthy buffets.” Restaurants in the region will be visited by project staff who will work with them to establish plant-based meal options. The project will work with grocers to encourage more availability of healthful foods and to help consumers identify smart choices more easily. Promotion of organic foods and locally grown produce and farmers markets will be featured in the Healthy Hearts program.
“It is the primary goal of our program to help our population choose good nutrition and healthy lifestyles to enhance their cardiovascular health and to make health information and resources accessible to everyone,” Doody said. “The urgency of the cardiovascular disease problem in the region will become widely known, and we will encourage people toward lifestyle modifications that reduce risk factors for heart disease and make positive healthy choices that we hope will become a way of life.”
AstraZeneca is a pharmaceutical company with billions of dollars in annual sales, including cardiovascular products.
Dr. James Blasetto is chairman of the AstraZeneca Healthcare Foundation. He said cardiovascular disease is “taking a terrible toll on our families, our communities and our nation.”
He lauded the hospital for taking steps to address the problem.