By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —  Every minute a woman is killed by heart disease. Today is “Go Red for Women Day,” designed to reverse the deadly trend and promote healthier lives for women of all ages. Now, there is a new advance in treating heart disease.

44 million American women are living with heart disease, and millions more are at risk, and don’t know it. Finding and treating it early is critical, and there have been a number of advances. One is making heart surgery a whole lot easier on patients.

Nancy Judovits uses necklaces to cover the scar on her chest, following heart surgery in December. “I’m really doing well,” Nancy said.  Nancy had an aortic aneurism and needed a valve replacement, which is traditionally is done with an 18 inch incision to open the chest. But, Nancy an active mom, who loves traveling, had a minimally invasive alternative.

Dr. Konstadinos Plestis is Chief of Cardiothoracic surgery, for the Lankenau Heart Institute, which is part of Main Line Health. He says, “The imaging tools specialized equipment allows him to access the aorta with four to five-inch incisions. You can barely see the incision”

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Dr. Plestis is able to replace a valve exposing just a small portion of the heart. “When the incision is smaller, then the pain is less,” Dr. Plestis said. “The recovery is much faster. This is a very new development.”

The heart still has to be temporarily stopped, and the patient in on a heart lung bypass machine for the surgery. But, the smaller incision has patients, like Nancy, recovering in weeks. “Modern medicine is great,” Nancy said. “Less invasive is always better and the sooner I can get back to normal living, I think the better off you’re going to be in the long run.”

Main Line Health started the Women’s Heart Initiative more than five years ago to educate both our physicians and our patients on the importance of women knowing their unique risks and symptoms and what they can do to stay healthy. But, it doesn’t affect all women alike, and the warning signs for women aren’t the same in men. What’s more, these facts only begin to scratch the surface.

Nancy, like many women, didn’t know she had heart disease. She was eventually diagnosed after complaining to her doctor that she felt tired a lot. For more information about women and heart disease, visit www.mainlinehealth.org/heart and www.goredforwomen.org.

Stephanie Stahl