Dr. Kristy Todd on Mitigating the Risk Factors of Heart Disease

by Elyse Wild | Photography by Two Eagles Marcus

Kristy Todd always knew that she wanted to be a nurse; she recalls visiting her doctor’s office as a little girl and how the crisp, clean smell and one-on-one attention made her feel safe and cared for. Now, the Director of Cardiac Service Line at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s works to imbue that same feeling of safety and care into the cardiac patient experience across the five campuses within the Mercy Health System.

“Sometimes being in the hospital is the worst part of a patient’s life,” Todd expressed. “As a nurse, I would always tell my patients, ‘I am going to be here for you and you are going to have great care while you are here.’ That is what continues to drive me.”

Todd has a wide breadth of experience in cardiac health. She began her career 30 years ago as a floor nurse after graduating from Duke University.
For 12 years, she worked on a cardiac intensive care unit, where patients are less stable than those on regular units and have one-on-one contact with their care team.  In 2009, she moved to Grand Rapids from North Carolina and worked as a clinical nurse specialist at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. In 2012, she graduated from Duke University again, this time with a doctoral degree in nursing. Today, she oversees all procedures and services related to heart health within the healthcare system. Mercy Health performs a variety of treatments, diagnostic services and non-invasive procedures in heart and vascular. These range everywhere from telemetry monitoring to open heart surgery. More than half a dozen cardiac departments report to Todd as she works to shape positive outcomes for patients through policy and procedures. Additionally, she meets with state legislatures to advocate for statewide healthcare policy.

While Todd’s role as service line director doesn’t allow her direct patient contact, she remains in touch with the passion that first drew her into healthcare; she works one weekend a month as a nurse practitioner performing check ups at nursing homes and assisted living facilities across West Michigan.

“It’s so rewarding to me,”  she smiled. “As a nurse, you get so much more than you give.”

1-in-3  

According the American Heart Association, heart disease claims the lives of 1-in-3 women, and 80 percent of cardiac events in women may be prevented by lifestyle choice.

While Todd has forged a career out of her passion for creating positive outcomes for individuals with heart disease, she herself has a strong family history disease; both her father and paternal grandmother died of aneurysms. At the time of our interview, Todd kept her cell phone close, as her mother was undergoing cardioversion (a non-invasive procedure that restores a normal heart rhythm to those with an abnormal beat) in Cleveland.

She emphasizes that she is aware of her risk factors for heart disease, and those which she can and cannot control.

“I cannot control my age, my gender or my family history,” she stated. “But I can control my diet, my weight and my activity level.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends adults get a weekly total of at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity to lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol or “bad cholesterol.”  Moderate aerobic activities include walking, gardening, ballroom dancing, water aerobic or biking; and vigorous aerobic activities include running, biking, aerobic dancing, swimming laps, hiking uphill or heavy yard work.

Todd exercises 30-minutes a day, five days a week at a fit body boot camp and has an ardor for running (she’s ran four marathons.).She notes that while committing to such activity keeps her physically fit, it helps her to stay mentally healthy, as well; excessive stress levels can have a big impact on the body by increasing blood pressure and resulting in behaviors that lead to heart disease, such as physical inactivity, overeating and smoking.

“Stress and depression can lead to heart disease,” Todd expressed. “We all have stress, and we need to figure out to how to manage it, whether it is meditation or exercise or a hobby.”

Todd encourages women to know their numbers and to be strategic, realistic and specific when making lifestyle adjustments to mitigate their risk factors; instead of overhauling your diet, commit to eating healthy five days week, build up your activity level day-by-day and set time aside to de-stress.

“As healthcare professionals, we need to meet people where they are at with their lifestyle and give them three things they can do to reduce their likelihood,” she said. “There are things we know that, if not prevent it completely, at least slow it down. Knowledge is power and prevention is key.”

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