On February 22, 2020, Dr. Paula Miller, UNC School of Medicine professor and director of the UNC Women’s Heart Program, will lead UNC’s sixth annual Women’s Heart Symposium. This free event provides hundreds of women with knowledge and resources designed to improve their cardiovascular health outcomes. And, as Dr. Miller is quick to point out, it is donors to UNC Medicine who have made the symposium possible.
The Women’s Heart Symposium began in 2013 with an anonymous $5,000 gift from a patient of Dr. Miller’s. An educator, the patient wanted to support raising awareness and knowledge among women about heart health and what they could do to reduce their risk of heart disease. With these funds, Dr. Miller convened a small gathering of 20 women.
“We wanted to see if enough women wanted to spend a Saturday learning about heart health,” Dr. Miller says. “As it turns out, they did.”
Another generous philanthropic gift, this time from Barbara Curtis, a notable Raleigh philanthropist and patient at UNC, allowed for the symposium to begin serving more women. The symposium now reaches 120 participants annually.
In North Carolina, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women, with heart disease and stroke accounting for 28% of deaths. Dr. Miller sees education as the key to reversing this trend and as the core component of the Women’s Heart Symposium. Participants learn about the connection between anxiety and heart disease and walk away with tools for relaxation. They learn the importance of core strength and leave with at-home strengthening exercises. They hear from experts about the connection between nutrition and heart health, receiving recipes they can easily cook at home while also enjoying the symposium’s heart healthy lunch and beverage options.
Perhaps most importantly, the Women’s Heart Symposium is free to any participant. When designing the program, Dr. Miller knew the main barrier to participation would be cost. To have a meaningful impact and reach the women who needed this education the most, Dr. Miller knew she would have to find a way to offer the symposium free of charge. Barbara Curtis saw this, too.
“Truly, Barbara is the one who made it possible to keep this going,” reflects Dr. Miller.
Sadly, Barbara Curtis passed away in March 2019 at the age of 73. But her legacy of support for UNC, and specifically for women’s heart health, is being carried on by her husband Don and their daughter Donna. And for that, Dr. Miller is very grateful.
“My mom cared deeply about others; she was the kindest, most loving and humble person that I have ever known, and that really drove her philanthropic efforts,” Donna Curtis McClatchey says. “She would never want any recognition for herself, but it really did bring her great joy and satisfaction to provide opportunities for others, such as Dr. Miller, to use their gifts, talents, knowledge and expertise to help others.”
McClatchey stresses that as a recipient of great care at UNC, her mother understood the value of education and prevention, and would be quick to give Dr. Miller credit for taking this idea and running with it to make a difference in the lives of women across the state.
“We are all very grateful to see how impactful this program has become and are excited to see Dr. Miller’s continued expansion of it,” McClatchey says.
Moving forward, Dr. Miller would like to broaden the reach of the symposium, offering one in eastern North Carolina and one in the western part of the state.
“It is my hope that UNC is equated with being a leader in women’s heart heath,” she says. “Donor support set the Women’s Heart Symposium on the trajectory for success and will almost certainly be the key to making this hope a reality.”
To register for the Women’s Heart Symposium, a free educational resource for women, click here.