By Nora Heston Tarte
Joann Marks, RN, MSN, puts her heart into her career. As the director of the Heart and Vascular Institute at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton, Marks has a passion for raising awareness of women’s heart health, and she is persistently working to promote education around heart disease—the number one killer of women in the U.S.
Swathed in a red dress (a staple of the Go Red movement), Marks stands at a podium and tells the story of how she first became acquainted with St. Joseph’s in 2008. It’s a story she tells often.
Although a resident of Modesto, Marks found herself in St Joseph’s Stockton waiting room, a bundle of nerves, while her father underwent an atrial fibrillation ablation (an invasive procedure used to treat cardiac arrhythmia). And though the situation was a stressful one, when Marks thinks back on that day, she can see the good that came out of a poor situation. After all, if it weren’t for her father’s procedure, staff may have never approached her about a job opening in the catheterization (or cath) lab.
Her background, which includes four years in the cardiology cath lab at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, a stint as an instructor in the nursing program at Modesto Junior College, a nursing career spanning more than a decade, and an inherent affinity for the profession (“When I was in nursing school, I felt immediately comfortable in the cath lab,” she says), made her the perfect fit. She was hired, and the rest is history.
At the time, Marks admits she didn’t recognize St. Joseph’s as a leading institution for cardiac care. “We’re just a little gem that not a lot of people think about,” she shares. “We’re very much on the forefront of everything.”
Marks’ position allows her to work with both research and outreach, playing into her passion of educating women about heart disease. One observation she’s made is that women tend to brush their symptoms off, not realizing the imminent danger high blood pressure or high cholesterol can pose.
“Women don’t always get that sudden crushing chest pain typically associated with a heart attack,” she explains. And it doesn’t help that many women think of heart disease as a man’s illness. “We’re so aware and we’re so focused on breast cancer and female cancers, [but] more women still die of heart disease than all cancers combined.”
Now she speaks out to save lives. And she’s leading by example. “Every year on my birthday I give a gift to myself and I get a full physical and I have them check my cardiac health, my female health, and everything else.”
As she continues to grow with St. Joseph’s Heart and Vascular Institute, Marks takes every opportunity to align herself with organizations she admires—like the American Heart Association (AHA), the Fight The Lady Killers campaign, and the Women’s Heart Alliance. She also works with other St. Joseph’s staff to put on the hospital’s annual heart fair, run cardiac awareness booths at community events, conduct studies to further research, and participate in Go Red for Women efforts like the AHA Heartwalk,
That’s all in addition to her public speaking where she wears her red dress with purpose. “I want people to see the red dress just as they see the pink ribbon,” she says.
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