Arleen Francis is so passionate about cardiovascular health from her personal experiences, the nurse decided to make a career out of it through prevention and education.
Francis' father, grandfather and uncle all suffered from heart disease.
The Cardiovascular Nurse Navigator for Indiana University Health LaPorte Hospital, she said she's fueled by her family history to help prevent the disease through the Heart Cart. A literal screening-on-wheels, the Heart Cart brings the necessary equipment and staff to any location in the area to perform several comprehensive heart and vascular screenings.
"It's a passion of mine," Francis said. "I have a strong family history of heart disease and I want to make a difference and raise awareness in the community on early prevention, detection and intervention."
The convenient Heart Cart screening package includes tests for abnormal heart rhythm, abdominal aortic aneurysm, blood pressure, fasting cholesterol and glucose levels, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, poor leg circulation, stroke and weight. All testing is reviewed by a board certified physician, and the confidential results are mailed to the individual or the individual's doctor within two to three weeks.
Since implementation in 2008, Francis said more than 1,500 individuals have been screened through the Heart Cart. And of those screened, 50 percent of individuals had abnormal findings.
Francis urged all men and women 21 and older to get screened and learn the risk factors.
"The Heart Cart is available to anyone. You don't need a doctor's order to get screened," she said. "The earlier the risks are found, the earlier somebody could take action and prevent a cardiac event from occurring."
Jamie Howell, who helps schedule Heart Cart screenings, said the process is empowering.
"It's your choice to take the initiative with your own health. You are taking ownership of your health, and who can make you healthier better than yourself because so many of these risk factors are preventative," she said.
According to Francis, abnormal findings indicate conditions ranging from permanent heart damage to risks of a cardiac event like a heart attack or stroke. Those with abnormal findings are referred to their family doctor or cardiologist for follow up care and, under extreme cases, receive immediate urgent care.
Many of these risk factors like being a smoker, overweight, diabetic or having high cholesterol are controllable through lifestyle changes. Some of those risk factors that cannot be controlled, however, include a family history of the disease, age and gender.
"What you want to do ideally is control those risk factors that you are capable of," Francis said.
The entire screening process takes about 35 minutes and includes three stations. Individuals must fast for 10 hours prior to the screening for the cholesterol and glucose test, which includes a certified finger stick to identify risks for diabetes or pre-diabetes. The screenings are noninvasive and painless, Francis said.
Registration is required to take the Heart Cart screening, and space is limited at each location. The $100 fee is payable by cash, check or credit card. In order to offer this service at a discount, IU Health LaPorte Hospital does not bill insurance. Individuals are responsible for payment in full.
In addition, individuals may take the Vertical Auto Profile test for an additional $39. The screening can be scheduled individually or along with the Heart Cart screening. The advanced cholesterol test measures 15 lipid components -- significantly more than a traditional cholesterol test.
Those who already have identified risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or who cannot manage their cholesterol numbers, Francis recommended for the screening.
"The VAP expands the services of the Heart Cart by identifying those at a high risk for heart disease due to genetics," she said. "VAP identifies more markers to keep cholesterol from building plaque in the arteries."
All of the components included in the screening, Francis added, total a $1,200 value. The lower cost is due in part to the LaPorte Hospital Foundation — the philanthropic arm of IU Health LaPorte Hospital.
The Heart Cart has visited organizations, churches and businesses throughout Northwest Indiana and the southern part of Michigan. The number of people screened at a visit ranges from 20 to 100.
"We have no real boundaries," Francis said.