It is campaign season for one doctor at University of Utah Health. She is using her nomination for the American Heart Association’s Utah Woman of Impact award to promote a platform which stresses advanced research and increased awareness about the dangers of heart disease. Nelangi M. Pinto, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at U of U Health, is passionate about her work with two of the most vulnerable groups of patients when it comes to heart disease.
"In addition to increasing awareness about heart disease in women, in my role I think it is critically important to talk about the heart defects a baby can be born with," said Pinto. Congenital heart disease is the leading cause of infant illness and death from birth defects and cardiovascular disease is the #1 cause of death for new moms. These are alarming statistics that affect every aspect of Pinto’s practice.
In recent years, Pinto became more aware of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) "Go Red" campaign to promote women’s heart health and she has fully embraced it. "I think that was kind of a natural jump for me to say, ‘yes of course, we need to recognize how important it is to make sure moms are cognizant of their own health and risk.’ Pregnancy is a higher-risk period for a woman because they are asking their heart to do a ton more than it normally does for the growing fetus," said Pinto.
As a pediatric cardiologist and researcher, Pinto had already established a strong relationship with the AHA. The association has supported her work and that of her colleagues at U of U Health with several research grants. She told us that, "One of the AHA grants we received is helping us to look at the impact of a heart defect, not just on the baby but on the entire family. So, our job as fetal doctors is not just taking care of the fetus, we are taking care of the family and especially the mom, trying to make sure we are supporting them through this whole process."
Although it was unexpected, Pinto was excited to be nominated for the AHA’s Women of Impact award by the mother of one of her pediatric heart patients. Her focus is much less on winning and more on the opportunity to promote greater awareness of women’s heart health issues and raise the funds to ensure that message is spread locally and nationally. Pinto has assembled a team of friends, colleagues, and other community members to help her efforts. Pinto’s fellow nominee is a woman she greatly admires, a survivor of a life-threatening cardiovascular event at age 37.
The eight-week campaign to earn the official recognition began on Friday, February 4 and ends on Thursday, April 7 when the nominee whose team makes the largest impact in Utah will be named the Woman of Impact Award winner. Two weeks into the drive, Pinto already describes the experience as rewarding. She said, "The advocacy part of this campaign, I feel like I’m learning a lot, and like we are making a difference. I’ve always been interested in public health and really improving the whole population’s health and so this is a great way for me to get involved."