Originally created 07/12/00

Heart group honors doctor for her work



THOMSON - Dr. Jacqueline W. Fincher leans back in her chair and for just a moment talks of herself. Then her hands start to march around on the conference table, her smile widens, and the campaign begins.

For her deeply felt personal and professional commitment to fighting heart disease at McDuffie Medical Associates and educating patients and the public throughout Georgia, Dr. Fincher has beennamed Doctor of the Year by the American Heart Association. The work comes for her as easily as breathing, and it just naturally pours out of her.

"I am very passionate about anything I do, and I have a big mouth that goes with that passion," she said jokingly. "I'm happy to get up and talk or say anything for the heart association anywhere, anytime. When you believe so much in a cause or a mission, you want to do whatever you can to help that organization succeed. For me, it was just a fit."

Working in internal medicine, it is a fight she takes on every day to get her patients to stop doing the things putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease.

"It's the No. 1 killer for a reason, and that's what I see most of in my office," she said.

Her involvement with her community and patients is why she was nominated for the national honor by the American Heart Association Southeast Affiliate in Atlanta, said Jack Hannings, executive vice president for the affiliate.

"She is clearly making a difference in patients' lives," Mr. Hannings said.

And it is part of a new strategy the group is pursuing throughout the country, Dr. Fincher said. The group has set a goal of cutting deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 25 percent by 2010. That's particularly important in the South and especially so in this area, part of a stroke belt that stretches across south Georgia up into South Carolina.

"Of all the places in the nation, we are at a critical place here in the Southeast," Dr. Fincher said.

A big part of that is educating patients and motivating physicians.

"We as physicians need to do a better job of being aggressive at getting people to the goal numbers that have already been established," she said."I see a ton of diabetic hypertensive patients. I know if I get that blood pressure under 130/80, I decrease their risk of death over the next five years by over 50 percent."

Much of it centers on taking the time to ask about things such as smoking or grabbing the opportunity to help them change when it comes along, she said.

"I tell people, `I don't want to wait until I see you in the emergency room having your stroke for you to get this,'ƒ" she said.

Perhaps it is her own experience as a breast cancer survivor that fuels her desire to see people change their lives. Stricken at age 32, just months after having a child, she found out the cancer already had spread to nearby lymph nodes.

"My 10-year survival was less than 10 percent," she said, adding with a smile, "and I'm 8´ years out. There's no question it changes your perspective."

That perspective allows her to put herself in the patient's place when ordering a test or delivering a diagnosis - or when speaking up about healthy lifestyles. Her husband and partner, Dr. James Lemley, says their mere presence at a function makes people self-conscious about smoking or eating fatty foods.

Just ask their preacher, who spotted them as he was about to dive into a heavy banquet.

"He said, `Dadgummit, why'd you all have to show up right now?'ƒ" Dr. Fincher said, laughing.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.



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