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Why I’m a Patient Advocate: Dr. Svetlana Barbarash, M.D. Cardiologist

Having been a practicing cardiologist for the last 14 years, I cannot stop noticing cause and effect relationships in many cardiovascular conditions that my patients come with.  As a patient advocate, it is my job to find the reason for heart diseases and to help identify the ways to prevent a recurrence. Some of my patients have suffered a heart attack due to age or a genetic predisposition but a lot have developed heart disease due to “bad habits” like smoking.  Some of my heart attack survivors are young women and smoking was the cause of heart disease in almost all of them.

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I do my best to offer a variety of motivators and tools for my patients to quit smoking. I explain how smoking causes inflammation in the blood vessels and even one cigarette increases the risk of a heart attack. I remind them that heart disease is the #1 killer in the US. I talk about the risk of cancer and lung disease. I offer a referral to smoking cessation programs, nicotine replacement treatment, Chantix, as well as Wellbutrin.  I am often told, “Doctor, but smoking is a very difficult habit to break after so many years!”, and I say that I can relate to that – I had my father quit smoking at the age of 75, twenty years after his coronary bypass surgery. It took a while for me to find the regimen that worked for him. With perseverance and determination, we made it happen and he now enjoys a tobacco-free life with gardening and traveling and being able to breathe without discomfort – a simple daily function that we all take for granted until the day we can’t. 

I realize that we have come a long way in this country with smoking cessation programs. Life expectancy is 10-15 years longer in the US when compared to Russia, where I grew up. The campaign of making smoking unpopular and policies that made it difficult to do in public places take a big credit for prolonging lives. 

I am concerned to see ongoing tobacco use inside casinos and other work environments, as this privilege unfortunately has an impact on the general health of all visitors and especially those who work there on a daily basis. People should not need jeopardize their health to provide for their families. With the beautiful facilities built in my home town of Las Vegas, I have so much to offer to my children - visit the museums, watch the exhibits, the shows, the movies, great places to eat. Many of these places require us to walk through “smoky” casinos. I see gamblers, casino workers, and Las Vegas residents who I fear will be my future patients.   As a cardiologist, mother, and daughter, I am constantly in a search for the ability for us to live, work and play in a better, healthier environment. For these reasons, I am advocating for smoke free air laws across Nevada that are comprehensive and apply to all indoor workplaces and public environments.

If you are interested in getting involved or if you have any legislative questions, please contact Ben Schmauss at Ben.Schmauss@Heart.org.

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