1. O'Shaughnessy, Patrice


One nurse on a mission to improve women's health.


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A near-death experience as a child drove Marcia McCoy, MSN, RN, to become a nurse-and graduate school "opened her eyes." As a pioneer in women's heart health, she has spent more than a decade working on an issue that had been viewed as a men's health problem.


"We've not addressed women's heart issues," says McCoy. "All the baby boomers will be in menopause, and we've never really looked at the health issues of perimenopausal and menopausal women."


McCoy, age 55, is the director of the Muriel I. Kauffman Women's Heart Center at St. Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. She estimates that the facility has taught more than 31,000 women about the risks of cardiovascular disease. McCoy spent the first 21 years of her career in critical care at St. Luke's Hospital, half of that time in the cardiovascular ICU where the patients lost outnumbered patients saved; successes were few but meaningful.

Figure. Marcia McCoy... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Marcia McCoy demonstrates how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) to local school nurses at an educational session in 2004. McCoy led a successful effort to install 500 AEDs throughout her community in Kansas City, MO.

"I loved working with really sick people," she says. "Most patients died, but it was so intriguing, [to feel] that you could make a difference in someone's life." In 1973, when McCoy started her career, she didn't see any female patients in the cardiovascular ICU. "We found that one size angioplasty catheter does not fit all. There's a difference in women's hearts."


Then, in the early 1990s: "We saw that more women were dying from heart disease than we thought." The Women's Heart Center opened in 1994, as McCoy was working on her master's degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing.


"School made me ask, 'How can I help people? What can I offer?' It was an evolution of my role." McCoy left the ICU to take an active role in women's health.


And, she says, "I fell in love with women's health."


In 1999 she became the director of the Women's Heart Center, as well as the executive director of the Heart Safe Community Partnership and the director of the athletic heart clinic and the adult congenital heart program.


She has given presentations throughout the country to churches, community groups, sororities, and schools, as well as at professional symposiums and conventions. Her first presentation in 1994 was to wives of golfers at a tournament in Kansas City, titled "Women and Heart Disease." It was a time when this issue was new to many health professionals, and even more so to the general public, which always considered that women should be more concerned with diseases such as breast cancer.


"We engage women to be proactive, and ask questions. Some of them are surprised [at the facts]; they think they're doing enough and are shocked when something goes wrong," says McCoy.


She says her work in women's health is as rewarding as critical care.


"In health promotion, there is satisfaction in seeing a woman who needed urgent guidance with her health finally make that appointment with her physician."


McCoy is also excited about being at the forefront of burgeoning cardiology subspecialties such as heart care for athletes, and adult congenital heart care. "Most adults think that if they had cardiac surgery as a child for a congenital defect, they're fixed, but the repairs wear out and they need to be monitored," she said.


In 2003 McCoy hosted First Lady Laura Bush at the heart center to promote awareness about women's vulnerability to heart disease. A year later, McCoy and the Women's Heart Center received the Woman's Day "Red Dress Award," recognized as first contributors, pioneers, and leaders in educating and screening women in cardiovascular health.


The center was one of the first two hospitals in the country to offer women's heart care. McCoy also spearheaded a program that placed 500 automated external defibrillators in the Kansas City community and trained 600 lay people as first responders.


"I like the less traditional. I like to collaborate with noncardiology professionals, to show what we have to offer," says McCoy.


McCoy's husband, Richard, a career Army pilot, has been deployed to the Persian Gulf twice: to Kuwait and Iraq. He's leaving again shortly. "It's something we've lived with our whole lives [together]," McCoy sighs. Her daughter and three-year-old grandson will keep her company.


McCoy's life would surely have been different if she had followed her parents' wishes. She played the clarinet and received a music scholarship to Wichita State University. Her parents were thrilled. But she told them she wanted to study nursing instead.


"When I was 12 years old, I had an emergency appendectomy and became septic," she recalls. "I was in the ICU and had this out-of-body experience. A nurse was taking care of me, and when I came out of it she said, 'She's fine, she has a purpose now.' And I just knew I'd be a nurse."


Patrice O'Shaughnessy