U.Va. Nurse Combines Two Key Roles by Organizing Free Women's Heart Health Event in Charlottesville on Saturday

Aug. 12, 2009 — As a nurse, Sharon Williams has devoted the past 21 years to caring for the physical wellbeing of patients at the University of Virginia Health System. Last year, she became a licensed minister and expanded her passion for promoting good health by joining the Health Ministry of the Mount Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville.

Now Williams has found a unique way to combine her role as a nurse and minister by organizing a free event, to be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mount Zion Church. Entitled "Women Celebrate and Share a Heart Connection," the event will include an interactive discussion led by the cardiology staff of U.Va.'s Club Red Clinic, musical performances by Mt. Zion's renowned choir and refreshments provided by volunteer supporters of the Club Red Clinic.

"Heart disease is the number one killer of women, and it's time for us to start empowering each other to live heart healthy lives," Williams said. "That's what this program is all about."

As a nurse, Williams knows that many women lack accurate knowledge about heart disease. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard women say they don't worry about having a heart attack because only men get them," she said. "It's also fairly common for women to dismiss their heart attack symptoms as indigestion or as signs of aging or menopause."

Because they tend to focus more on the needs of others than themselves, women often minimize the importance of their own health. Williams will never forget the elderly woman admitted to U.Va.'s critical care unit one Sunday. The woman was at church when she started feeling nauseous and having chest pains.

"She didn't want to interrupt the service, so she stayed in her pew. She kept saying she didn't think she was having a heart attack," Williams said. "Well, she was having a massive heart attack and died because she waited too long to get to the hospital."

So far, Williams and her co-organizers from the Black Nurses Association have contacted more than 40 area churches, all of which say they will have congregants at the event.

"We're hoping this will be the first in a series of programs that will bring women from many different backgrounds together and open their eyes about their hearts and their health," she said.

Scheduled to lead the conversation about women's heart health are U.Va.'s Club Red Clinic co-directors Dr. Amy Tucker and Dr. Angela Taylor, both cardiologists. Nurse practitioners, dieticians and exercise physiologists from the Club Red Clinic will be on hand to facilitate small group discussions.

Mount Zion First African Baptist Church is located at 105 Lankford Ave. in Charlottesville. For directions and more information about the event, call 434-591-0408.