Dr. Jennifer Mieres has known she wanted to help save people's lives ever since she was 7 years old growing up in Trinidad and lost her beloved 67-year-old grandfather to a heart attack.
“I was very close to him,” Mieres recalled. “That’s when my interest in medicine started, and my interest in science.”
First as a cardiologist and now as senior vice president of Northwell Health's Center for Equity of Care and the health system’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer, Mieres has worked to improve the health of patients, with a particular focus on women and racial and ethnic minorities, who suffer disproportionately from cardiovascular problems such as heart disease.
For her work, Mieres has been named the 2022 Physician of the Year by the American Heart Association. She accepted the award at a virtual ceremony on Wednesday.
Mieres has volunteered for the group for 22 years, including as a national spokesperson for its Go Red for Women campaign to increase awareness of women’s heart disease, a member of its national board of directors and chair of national committees on cardiac imaging and professional education.
Mieres “is a champion for health equity, for the work she has done for decades for women’s health but also for the health of Black and Latino patients on Long Island [and] around the country through her leadership with the American Heart Association,” Diego Ortiz Quintero, a spokesman for the association, said in an interview.
The association has pledged to raise more than $200 million to address racial, ethnic, geographic and gender health disparities.
Mieres said in an interview Monday that she was “truly inspired” by the group’s recognition, “because I felt that it will shine the spotlight on the important work that needs to be done” to empower patients to play a greater role in their own care, to close the gaps in health outcomes between men and women and between whites and racial and ethnic minorities, and to help diversify the ranks of health care providers and participants in research studies.
Mieres, 62, has co-authored books including “Heart Smart for Women,” “Heart Smart for Black Women and Latinas,” and “Reigniting the Human Connection: A Pathway to Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity.” Mieres has coproduced four documentaries on health, including the Emmy-nominated PBS film “A Woman’s Heart.”
She also serves as associate dean of faculty affairs at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and is a member of Northwell’s Katz Institute for Women’s Health.
Women tend to underestimate their risks of heart disease and do not always recognize the warning signs, such as shortness of breath, chest pain and pressure during exertion and stress, Mieres said.
As a result, she said, they tend to get treatment later and are less likely to survive. Many women do not know that pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes are linked to higher risks of heart complications years later, she said.
In addition, she said, elevated rates of high blood pressure among Blacks and diabetes among Latinos mean those groups are at higher risk of heart disease.
“Making sure you check your blood pressure is one key factor,” along with exercise – even short walks – a healthy diet, keeping stress under control and getting enough sleep, said Mieres, who lives in Manhattan with her husband, psychiatrist Dr. Haskel Fleishaker, and their daughter Zoë Fleishaker, 22.
"At least 80% of heart disease can be prevented or modified or controlled," said Mieres, who earned her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine and is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, as well as a master of the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology and the society’s first female president. "So it's really knowing your risk, knowing your family history and really making the lifestyle changes and [taking] medications to mitigate the risks."