The South Asian Cardiovascular Centre

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At we continue to try and work with organizations in health across the globe that do great work in the South Asian community to share their events, help promote their cause and mission through editorial and social engagement. We’re proud to share an interview with one organization leading the way in the US in raising awareness about heart health in the South Asian community.

The South Asian Cardiovascular Centre

The South Asian Cardiovascular Center (SACC) at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital is the first cardiovascular center in the Midwest United States that aims to educate, screen, prevent, and treat South Asians for their high risk of cardiac disease.
We talked to Dr. Shoeb Sitafalwalla who heads this centre about the inspiration behind the work he does and why it is important.

What inspired you to launch a Centre for South Asians?

Growing up in the Chicagoland area I had always been active in community volunteerism.  However, as I approached the end of my cardiovascular training I often struggled with how I would be able to maintain my community work with the demanding schedule of a clinical cardiologist.  Then one day, while on duty as a cardiology fellow-in-training I was called to the emergency room to take care of a young 33 year-old Asian Indian man who started having chest pain while taking his 4 month old infant son to the pediatrician.

The South Asian Cardiovascular Centre

It was clear he was having a massive heart attack and we quickly rushed him to our cardiac catherization lab where an urgent angioplasty saved his life.  What was truly unsettling was the fact that he was the sixth case of a young Asian Indian man I was dealing with over the past one year who had a heart attack.  I realized this was my opportunity to give back to the community in a profound way through my chosen profession.  It was at that time I formed the model behind the South Asian Cardiovascular Center (SACC) at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.


What are the services specific to South Asian women that are offered?

The services we offer at the SACC start at the community level.  We work with various faith based communities, civil organizations, local governments and professional groups to create a set of customized lectures, public health screenings, and community interventions to raise awareness on the high prevalence of heart disease South Asians suffer from.  At a clinical level we provide outpatient preventive services using tools such as stress testing, cardiac CT calcium scoring, and advanced cholesterol particle analysis to assess an individual for heart disease and their risk of having a heart attack.  Our clinical protocol goes beyond standard practice guidelines that often miss heart disease in the South Asian community.

Finally, for those South Asians who are admitted to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital for cardiac or non-cardiac issues we have a dedicated SACC Nurse Navigator that serves as an advocate for the patient and provides a bridge between the patient and the medical team. We also offer ancillary services such as South Asian nutrition counselling and a South Asian diabetic education class since nearly 30% of South Asians in the United States are diabetic.

What is the goal of the centre?

The goal of the SACC is to provide comprehensive support for the South Asian community through community education, public health interventions, and customized culturally competent clinical care to prevent the fatal effects of heart disease that South Asians are at a four times greater risk for.

The South Asian Cardiovascular Centre

How is the centre unique?

The SACC is the only center of its kind that seamlessly integrates community outreach, clinical care, and research to not only help individual patients, but also the Chicagoland South Asian community as a whole.  Our mission drives us to empower the community with the necessary education and tools to detect and prevent a heart attack rather than waiting for disease to affect the individual first.  Our approach and efforts have been recognized by various faith based communities, the media, and most recently the American Heart Association through the signing of a memorandum of understanding between our two organizations.

What is the calibre of expertise on cardiovascular health at the centre?

The SACC is able to draw from the expert award winning cardiovascular care provided at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital that was recently named one of the Top 50 Cardiovascular Teaching Hospitals in the United Sates by Truven Health Analytics.  When it comes to the SACC specifically, we have ranking cardiologists and nurses with expertise in advanced lipid management, cardiovascular prevention, advanced CT and MRI based cardiac imaging, and cardiovascular surgery/interventions.

What made you decide to go embark on  a career in cardiovascular health?

Like many South Asians I dreamt of being a physician since I was a child.  However, as I progressed in my studies at the university level I pursued a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering where I began to appreciate the complex and living mechanism of the human heart.  Cardiology was simply a fascinating field from an intellectual level.  As a South Asian the field became even more satisfying when I realized that cardiovascular disease affects more South Asians than any other ethnic group.

The South Asian Cardiovascular Centre

What are some of the biggest myths amongst South Asian women about cardiovascular disease?

South Asian women and non-South Asian women often make the mistake of believing that heart disease does not affect them or that it is a “man’s disease”.  In fact, more women die of heart disease than all cancers combined and South Asian women have a 30 to 50% greater risk of dying from heart disease than non-South Asian women.

Women in our community play an incredible role in affecting the life of the entire family unit.  No matter how orthodox or progressive the family, the woman often makes nutritional and health decisions that affect men, women, the young, and the elderly.  Therefore, awareness of heart disease amongst the women in the community is incredibly important.

The South Asian Cardiovascular Centre

What is the ‘Red sari campaign’? How can people take part?

A Red Sari Evening” began as an event to bring leaders from healthcare, government, and the South Asian community together to raise awareness of heart disease within the community and the solutions that could be provided when institutions work together.  It was an effort led and created by the South Asian Cardiovascular Center in collaboration with the American Heart Association that particularly emphasizes the role of women in helping lead this effort and was loosely modeled after the AHA’s Go Red – Red Dress campaign.

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In our inaugural event on March 8th, 2014 (International Women’s Day) we brought together nearly 150 individuals representing 63 unique organizations that have led to the development of various initiatives.  Red Sari 2015 is expected to be an even larger event and is tentatively scheduled for March 7th of 2015, here’s more info:

The South Asian Cardiovascular Centre


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