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The Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) (originally known as "Women's Heart Research Foundation") was incorporated June 11, 1992 by New Jersey nurse, Bonnie Hartman Arkus. WHF was founded as a 501(c) (3) charitable organization to "advance research and education for women's health".

Ms. Arkus founded the organization in response to a need to improve women's heart health and heart care after her mother's premature death from heart disease. On Mother's Day 1986, Bonnie's mother had a heart attack. She was told that she must have open heart bypass surgery as she had "left main disease". Her mother died immediately after the surgery. She had just turned 60.

After the operation, Ms. Arkus learned that women have a death rate 3-4 times that of men after undergoing open-heart bypass surgery, that there are no options given to patients who have "left main disease" other than having open-heart bypass surgery, and that there was little known about how heart disease affects women differently. Ms. Arkus felt compelled to raise awareness about these issues and to advocate for change.

From 1987 to1989, Ms. Arkus' advocacy took the form of phone-calling, letter-writing and visiting officials in Washington. Soon after her grass-roots effort began,  the American Heart Association started new programs to raise awareness about heart disease in women and the National Institutes of Health established the Office of Research for Women's Health. Public attention was raised about how heart disease symptoms present differently in women, how diagnostic testing is less reliable in women and how treatments differ for women with heart disease. Diagnostic delays were found to be contributing to more advanced vessel disease with poorer outcomes for women, especially younger women who smoke.

In October, 1991, Ms. Arkus started organizing events to raise money for research on heart disease as it affects women and successfully raised over $12,000. She donated the money to the American Heart Association as dedicated funds for research on women, however, AHA informed Ms. Arkus that American Heart Association guidelines prohibited fund raising for any special groups (e.g. women), therefore, she would have to team with another nonprofit in order to raise money for women. Ms. Arkus wanted to continue her efforts to raise awareness and to fund raise for women and heart disease, and, therefore, decided to form a new nonprofit heart organization dedicated to improving the survival and quality of life for women with heart disease.

Since 1991, the Women's Heart Foundation has served the public by designing and implementing new heart health programs for women, making available more consumer heart health information to the public and educating professionals about how heart disease affects women differently.

Early Conferences

Steering Committee - In November 1994, in Woodbridge, New Jersey, the Women's Heart Foundation convened a closed conference session with a panel of health experts to discuss care issues surrounding women with heart disease. The 15-member panel represented a multi-disciplinary approach to address these issues and helped to define a path for WHF.

Nurses' Meeting
6 women nurses standing in a conference roomIn February 1996, in Princeton, NJ, the Women's Heart Foundation convened a closed conference session with nurse clinicians to discuss and make recommendation for interventions that may improve a woman's outcome. The 7-member panel is shown in photo. Nurses who participated in a closed conference on women and heart disease in Princeton, NJ incuded: (L-R) Arla Sussman, RN, Manager, Cardiac Surgery at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick; Kathy Vidal, RN, Cardiac Care Nurse at Morristown Memorial Hospital; Maria Cayanan, RN, Coronary Care Nurse at Morristown Memorial Hospital; Susan Holohan, RN, Ambulatory Emergency Services at Helene Fuld Medical Center; Rosi Te, RN, Post-op Open Heart Surgery Nurse at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center; Bonnie Arkus, RN, Homecare Nurse and Executive Director WHF; Katherine Hilaire, RN, Cardiac Rehabilitation Nurse at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick. Funded by the Women's Heart Foundation, the closed conference session took place at the Marriott Hotel in Princeton as a weekend retreat. The purpose of the meeting was to outline specific strategies that may improve women's survival form cardiovascular disease.


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1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.