Ruth Williamson is a registered nurse in the cardiac rehabilitation unit at St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown.
She knows the importance of a good diet, frequent exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. She tells her patients every day. But when it comes to raising awareness about heart health, it’s more than just a job for Ruth. To her, it is a calling -- a true passion.
“I’ve always said ‘speak on that which you have a passion for,’” says Williamson.
For Williamson, the topic of the heart, is well, close to her heart. Nine years ago on Christmas Day, Williamson’s father died from a heart attack.
“How could I ever forget that day?” she recalls. “It was about 5:30 in the evening. It was a beautiful Christmas evening with the snow falling so beautifully. It was a picture perfect Christmas evening and my wildest dream could never have brought me to my father’s aid as he lay there lifeless in the hallway of his home.”
Williamson’s mother, Betty Vansuch, found her husband, Steve, 73, unresponsive on the floor and immediately called 911 and then called her four children – all who were home for the holiday. Bad weather, icy roads and a train delayed the EMS squad and Ruth arrived at her parent’s house before the ambulance. As a nurse, her family looked to her for what to do next.
“I knew he was gone, but I had to do something,” Williamson recalls. “It was as though an angel tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Ruth, everything will be OK. Just do what you have to do and Jesus will take care of the rest.’” She administered CPR and by then the EMS had arrived and was putting a monitor on her father. Once the squad was on scene, they permitted Williamson to start an IV on her father and she pushed three life sustaining drugs through the IV line. Even for all her efforts and the efforts of the EMS, her father was gone.
Williamson says that her dad had a strong family history of heart disease. While her father had bypass surgery in 1994, he also had mild hypertension. He developed diabetes a few years later. “He wasn’t a smoker and my mom always cooked heart healthy meals for him,” Williamson notes. His death was the family’s second loss – her father-in-law, Lloyd Williamson, suffered from a fatal heart attack three months prior.
With the passing of both of their fathers, Williamson and her husband, Jay, knew that they needed to be extra diligent about controlling the risk factors that they could. They also knew they needed to help their twin children -- Jay Jr. and Jennifer -- get an early start on a heart healthy lifestyle.
“Anybody can get heart disease, but it is controllable,” Ruth says. “You can reduce your risk factors by making lifestyle modifications.”
Several risk factors have been identified for an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack. There are controllable factors like smoking, hypertension, stress, obesity, lack of exercise, high blood fats and diabetes. And then there are uncontrollable risk factors such as increasing age, gender and heredity that can’t be changed. Ruth encourages her patients to focus on those that they can change.
“There’s hope for everybody,” Williamson says. Williamson encourages families to help each other on a healthy lifestyle – from grocery shopping together and identifying healthy option to making exercise a family activity. “Children copy their parents,” she notes.
In addition to keeping her family healthy, Williamson takes her mother-in-law, Kathryn Williamson, every year to the annual Woman’s Heart Day at the Covelli Centre organized by Humility of Mary Health Partners Heart & Vascular and Laboratory Services. This year the event will be held from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, May 12and area woman can attend the free event. Several screenings are available throughout the day – from blood pressure to body fat, diabetes screenings to cardiac risk assessments.
“It is a fun day and you can get the tools you need to learn what steps you need to take to improve your heart health,” Williamson says. For those who want to go a step further, the cardiac rehab program at Humility of Mary Health Partners can be a starting place. Patients can work with a multidisciplinary team of nurses, dieticians and exercise physiologists to develop a routine exercise program and identify their risk factors. A physician referral is required.
“I know I can’t bring my dad back,” Williamson notes, “But I can certainly help my family and help others get on the right track for a healthy lifestyle.”
For more information on cardiac rehab or Woman’s Heart Day, please visit www.HMpartners.org.
Photo special to the Town Crier
Ruth Williamson, registered nurse in the cardiac rehabilitation unit at St. Elizabeth Health Center, encourages patients to take care of their heart health.