Sadly heart disease is a number one killer of both men and women. This type of work is future proof by the shear nature of what we are dealing with. Until we find a cure for heart disease, I will always have this passion to raise awareness about heart disease prevention and detection through the coronary artery calcium scan.
As a part of my series “ Ideas That Can Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Victoria Dupuy. Victoria is the founder and executive director of No More Broken Hearts, a California-based nonprofit with the mission to provide education and awareness that a Coronary Artery Calcium Scan can save your life.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After my life took an unexpected tragic turn when my extremely-athletic husband Dean died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 46 in 2016, I immersed myself in learning all I could about heart disease, early detection, and who really is at risk.
Through sharing my newly-found knowledge and personal experience with friends, family, and the community, I quickly became aware that there were many others with experiences just like mine. This awareness, combined with my desire to prevent others from experiencing the terrible loss that my family and I went through, was my incentive to found No More Broken Hearts — because to me, every single heart matters.
With the simple test of the Coronary Artery Calcium Scan, we can identify heart disease at its earliest stages so it can be managed and monitored before a heart attack happens. Asymptomatic heart disease is a common condition, and until you have a heart scan you may never know that you have it — until it’s too late. Dean had been for his routine annual exam months prior and because he did not have any “risk factors” the test was never recommended and was told he “passed” with flying colors. However, his heart was not as healthy as what the standard test identified it to be.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My journey these past few years is full of stories, but one of the most interesting would be how I was flown out to Dublin, Ireland to attend the premier of the documentary The Widowmaker Movie. I had stumbled upon the The Widowmaker Movie when doing research into heart disease and the coronary artery calcium scan. In my search results, I came across the Society for Heart Attack Prevention and Eradication website and on their site, they had a link to the documentary, The Widowmaker. I watched the trailer and knew I had to get in touch with the makers of this film. If you’re not aware, the movie examines the hidden battle fought inside America’s medical community and the notion of prevention versus intervention.
I sent an email through their contact page telling them of my story and within a day I heard back from the director of the film, Patrick Forbes. After several email exchanges and Skype calls it was clear that we shared the same passion. Ironically, The Widowmaker received the Community Impact award at the Boston Film Festival in 2013. After connecting with Patrick, he connected me with David Bobbett, founder of the Irish Association for Heart Disease Awareness (IAHDA), who financed the film. Our two organizations partnered together and we hosted four movie screenings of The Widowmaker in our community. Shortly after the screenings, IAHDA asked me if I would be their guest at their premier in Ireland, and I flew out to be a part of their event.
Another story was meeting Sean Maloney. Sean was to be the next CEO of Intel years ago before he suffered a massive stroke. I read about him in Forbes Magazine and reached out through email. Again, Sean responded fairly quickly and we got together for coffee shortly after that initial contact. Sean was working with the American Heart Association and putting together a significant event called Heart Across America. My foundation became one of the sponsors of the event, and I traveled a few places around the country with Sean. He was on the stroke side and I was on the heart side. Unfortunately, one of Sean’s dear friends who was doing the ride with him, died unexpectedly of a heart attack while on the ride.
Can you tell us about your “ Idea That Might Change The World”?
My big idea that could change the world is to bring the coronary artery calcium scan to communities through a mobile heart scan bus.
Over these past four years, the hurdle that so many individuals face is that once they learn about the coronary artery calcium scan test it is difficult to obtain. Unfortunately, many physicians are unaware of this test or are uneducated regarding the importance of this test, therefore making it difficult for patients who request it. I have heard over and over again from people in the community that their doctor didn’t know of the test or if they were aware of it, they did not feel the test was necessary for them. The problem is that for those physicians who are aware of CAC scans they are using antiquated measures for assessing heart disease risk and tend to solely rely on family history, blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.
Despite the fact that everyday asymptomatic individuals are dying of heart disease, unaware that their arteries are diseased because they do not have any risk factors. Coronary Artery Calcium Scans are not a “risk predictor” it is a simple test that identifies heart disease at its earliest stages so it can be treated, managed and monitored.
How do you think this will change the world?
When Dean died, I called his doctor and asked if the doctor had missed anything in Dean’s annual exam. The response was “it’s just not something we test for. It’s not like getting a mammogram or a colonoscopy.” Yet we know that both of these prevented screenings are for the purpose of identifying disease so it can be treated. Heart scans do the same thing yet, not commonly used.
Every 40 seconds per day a heart is broken — and some of my cardiologist friends say 80% can be prevented. Imagine reducing heart attacks even by 50% by identifying the disease early.
This will change the world because we will save lives. When a heart attack happens it is not just the individual who suffers the broken heart. It is also everyone that is left behind… family, friends, co-workers, mentors etc. The heartbreak has a ripple effect. Every time I wonder if I can keep doing this, I get another call from someone in my community who shares the same story and loss. And every time I get one of those calls, my fire and passion starts burning again.
It is hard for me to see any drawbacks to saving a life or providing patients with knowledge they otherwise did not have. By obtaining a calcium score, or the number given to a patient after he/she has had a CAC scan with 0 being ideal, a patient will have the opportunity to address the disease if they have it.
This can mean making lifestyle changes to medical intervention. Determined by the physician and patient, of course. But as I stated before, a heart scan does not save a life, it is what the patient does with the information that will make a difference.
I speak quite a bit in our community and just in the past year — two women who heard me share my story and knowledge two years ago did not take it to heart — I do believe that we, as a society, don’t think it can happen to us — and both of them lost their husbands to a heart attack. One at the age of 51, and one at the age of 57. Both asymptomatic, both with no history of heart disease.
I know this story because my neighbor’s husband died a few years before Dean, and both Dean and I didn’t have any knowledge we could be at risk. We thought we were doing everything right.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
The more I shared my story in the community, the more I learned it was not that unique, and I was shocked at how no one had heard of this simple test.
And even after people were learning about it and going to their doctors to ask for it, most were turned down and told they didn’t need the scan.
My vision from the beginning with No More Broken Hearts was to have a mobile unit. I want to circumvent the system and take away the barriers to obtaining this test.
Here we are four years later on the cusp of making it happen.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We need to continue to raise awareness about this very important test and we need legislation that forces insurance companies to cover this test, just like it does mammograms and colonoscopies.
And, of course, we need funds. We want to grow our team and be able to afford the expertise to help us to continue to grow.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
The first would be that having a passion to make a difference is a huge part of making change, but you also need connections.
Thankfully, my passion and my ability to network has helped us so much over these past four years. I’ve realized that it is because of the connections I’ve made that doors have opened and provided us with the various opportunities we have been involved with.
Second, fundraising is hard. We are a small team and we have raised a fair bit of money, but it is an ongoing process and it is hard to always reach out to the same people and even more difficult to find new donors.
I also wish someone had mentioned that running a non-profit is hard work. It can be emotionally draining — especially one that is tied to the loss of a loved one. As passionate as I am about No More Broken Hearts, this was not an area of expertise I ever set out to develop. It is because of the loss of my husband that I find myself on this path. And while I am deeply committed to making a difference and doing my best to hopefully alleviate this type of tragic loss for others, it can be difficult because I am always reminded of the life with my husband that I didn’t get to have.
Another important one is that there will be hiccups. We were all set to roll out our In A Heartbeat Study. My team and I worked non-stop for weeks lining up 100 participants only to have a setback which required us to reschedule our scanning dates. It was disappointing, but I was reminded that many organizations have rollouts that do not go as planned and rescheduling launches happen all the time.
Finally, to share my voice. Over the years, I have learned so much about heart disease and why the coronary artery calcium score is not widely embraced. I have sat at the table with numerous cardiologists, healthcare advocates and professionals and, like a sponge, absorbed all that I could. I have truly become an expert on this subject because of this amazing network.
Despite all of that, in the beginning of this journey, I would often feel reluctant to share my voice when seated at the “medical” table. But I now know that my voice is one that those in the healthcare profession want to hear, and I am proud to say they all listen with deep respect. One of the biggest compliments I have received was from my friend Dr. Joel Kahn who said:
“Ms. Dupuy is not only passionate about teaching others the lessons she learned so tragically, but she is educated, poised, eloquent and effective. She is very knowledgeable on the topic of early heart disease detection and can present to medical and public crowds with confidence and accuracy. She has the support of many prominent physicians and experts in the field of cardiac imaging and detection.” Dr. Joel Khan uses this test regularly in his practice.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
More mobile scanning buses.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
To trust my intuition, and as my husband always said, “The view is worth the climb.”
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
I think you just have to believe in what you are doing and have patience that things will happen. I feel that I have always believed that something positive would come of Dean’s death.
At the very beginning, I wasn’t sure what it was but in time it revealed itself to me. And the success I have found in raising awareness about this important test and then helping to develop this mobile bus was because I always believed. I feel that you have to network and put yourself out there even if you are not 100% sure what the benefit will be. It may not always be obvious but you never know who you might meet.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Do you want to save lives by providing a simple five-minute test to men and women over 45? It’s easier than you think.
The technology is there, the medical professionals are ready, all we need is your help in funding more mobile heart scan buses that we can take into our communities so that we may screen individuals for heart disease. It really is that simple to save hundreds of thousands of lives.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.