MARIETTA - Combating heart disease isn't just a matter of providing medical care when a problem arises.
Experts say education and awareness can stop problems before they start and help people recover and decrease their risks of having another event.
"It is the leading cause of death within our region (so) we know that it's important for people to know what risk factors they have," said Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations for the Memorial Health System. "We want people to read more about heart disease, to know their risk factors, to know what signs to watch for."
Both Memorial and Camden-Clark Medical Center send physicians and other employees to speak to community groups about heart disease and other medical issues. They also sponsor various events and programs promoting cardiovascular health and overall health improvement.
Up next for Memorial is the annual Go Red for Women luncheon on Thursday.
"We invite women in the community to come and spend some time over lunch focusing on them and heart health as it relates to women," Offenberger said.
Memorial provides low-cost screenings at locations around the area as a convenient way for residents to keep up with their health, cardiovascular and otherwise.
Memorial's quarterly Community Health Line publication also includes a variety of health information for people at the more than 2,000 addresses to which it's sent.
Camden-Clark's Lifetime Partners organization, which is free to anyone 55 and up, offers heart-health resources and activities, including the SoleMates program that encourages members to walk the Grand Central Mall in exchange for incentive prizes and improved fitness. The hospital also has a number of Heart Month activities planned for its employees, some of which - like healthy cooking demonstrations in the cafeterias on the Memorial and St. Joseph's campuses - are open to the public as well.
"Our hospital is a microcosm of the community at large, and we spend a lot of time with our hospital staff (focusing on) heart-healthy living," said Allison Maher, director of cardiovascular services for Camden-Clark.
Camden-Clark supports the annual Wood-Washington Heart Walk, held in the fall, which raises money for the American Heart Association. Employees raised more than $15,000 for the Heart Walk last year, but it isn't just about the money, Maher said. It also raises awareness about heart disease and ways to live healthier.
"The Heart Walk itself is a community effort that anyone can participate in," Maher said.
Education and lifestyle changes are also important for people who have had heart attacks or been diagnosed with other cardiovascular conditions, and that's key to both local hospital systems' cardiac rehab programs.
"Our program is education and exercise pertaining to your cardiac risk factor," said Barb Foster, a registered nurse in Memorial's cardiac rehab department. "It's not something you just do for 12 weeks. You've done some damage (to your heart) and now you don't want to damage it again."
In addition to developing an appropriate exercise regimen to continue after they leave the program, participants meet with pharmacists, nutritionists and dietitians to learn how to manage their medication and eating habits.
Justin Warner, president of the Marietta High School Key Club, said his group and Student Council became involved in a heart association fundraiser as part of an effort by the group to reach older students than its Jump Rope for Heart elementary school program targets. Now, students from MHS and Warren High School are selling T-shirts bearing the slogan "Rock the Beat" in advance of their basketball matchup on Tuesday.
"This is primarily to raise money for the American Heart Association but we are raising awareness," Warner said. "I feel honored to be a part of fighting heart disease."
The shirts - black for Marietta and white for Warren - can be purchased at the game, with the junior varsity contest scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m. at Warren, followed by the varsity game.