‘For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops.’ – Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Is dark chocolate and red wine really good for us? Can love mend the heart, or did the poets just make that up? When we feel depressed is it because something is wrong with our bodies? And is it true that you can die of a broken heart?
By day, Dr Nikki Stamp fixes broken hearts. Not by writing lengthy love letters or standing outside someone’s window with a boom-box, but in a hospital operating theatre. She is a cardiothoracic – heart and lung – surgeon who has worked in some of Australia’s busiest hospitals.
Her book, Can You Die of a Broken Heart? is part memoir, part health guide. Ripe with anecdotes from Dr Stamp’s personal life, it includes the first time she saw a beating human heart, stories of survival, and tragedy. And offers explanations stripped of medical lingo that help us understand what makes us tick.
It is clear once finishing the last page of Can You Die of a Broken Heart? that Dr Nikki Stamp has a strong desire to change the ways we think about our health. Equal parts a young surgeon’s fascination with the body’s most poetic and mystical organ, and erudite advice that can be applied on a daily basis. In fact, the book reveals that there are a number of easy, complementary, and achievable ways that we can change our lifestyles to reduce the chance of heart disease.
Stress, smoking, bad eating habits, poor sleep, and genetics are all major causes of a sick heart. But did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women? The chances of a woman dying after a heart attack are higher than a man. And yet our society largely perceives heart disease to be a male-dominated illness, even though a woman’s heart is structured differently to man’s and therefore experiences heart attacks differently. ‘Most of the research done into heart attacks,’ Dr Stamp laments, ‘has been done by men, on men.’
Dr Stamp’s cry for health professionals and society alike to revaluate their views on heart disease, especially when it comes to women, underpins the book. Part of the solution is acknowledging the problem that the medical history of research into heart disease is skewed towards the health of men, even though women are the ones who need it most. Perhaps for this reason Dr Stamp is an ambassador for the #ILookLikeASurgeon campaign, highlighting women and diversity.
(And yes, a broken heart can shorten your life: issues of bereavement, depression, stress, anxiety, insomnia, bad habits – like eating vats of ice-when you’re feeling sad – and pressures on the body can cause cataclysmic strain on the heart, weakening it, even causing it perish).
We bet that you will find Can You Die of a Broken Heart? in your local bookstore, wedged between copies of Giulia Enders’ Gut and the entire back catalogue of Dr Michael Mosley.
Wherever it is, seek out this fascinating read. It may even save your life.
About the author
Dr Nikki Stamp is one of only a handful of female heart and lung surgeons in Australia. She holds a Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in cardiothoracic surgery. Nikki writes regularly for The Huffington Post, is the host of PodcastOne’s Women With Heart, and hosted ABCTV’s Catalyst: Heartbeat: The Miracle Inside You.
‘Dr Nikki Stamp is so clearly in love with her subject: that wonderful and yet still mysterious organ, the human heart.’ – Dr Michael Mosley