Issues like the environment, housing, transportation and social services usually top the agendas of county government, but women’s health is also high on the list of concerns for Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who celebrates her first year in office in January.
Leslie Dinaberg: I know health is a big concern of yours since you had a heart attack (in December of 2004). How do you manage to stay healthy with such a busy job?
Janet Wolf: I try to continue my daily exercise routine and eat healthy foods. I started a “walk and talk” program, so instead of meeting some people for lunch they would come and we would do a walk and talk downtown. I didn’t want to get into the habit of eating out all the time, so I kicked off this idea at the American Heart Association Wear Red Day last year.
LD: That’s a great idea.
JW: We’re going to do it again in February for the Heart Association.
LD: So you’ve become a heart health advocate partially in response to your own experiences.
JW: Yes. I went through a physical rehabilitation program and changed my diet. I went to a five-day program offered through the Mayo Clinic called Woman-Heart. Women who’ve experienced heart disease, not necessarily heart attacks but a whole myriad, were trained to become spokespersons for women and heart disease.
…I made a commitment that I was going to speak about it and talk about my experiences. They wanted women who did not have a medical background, so they could easily relate to other women about their experiences.
When I returned from the program I was incredibly motivated to get the word out because, as I’m sure you know, heart attacks are the number one killer of women.
… Lois Capps was the co-sponsor of a bill–Heart Disease Education, Research and Analysis, and Treatment (HEART) for Women Act–I was honored to be asked to go to Washington and testify for this bill. In a lot of ways it’s been a way for me to just speak out about something that I’m so passionate about. Talking to women who are moms about heart disease, diet and exercise can also have positive impacts on their children.
LD: Prior to your heart attack, had you ever been told to watch anything by your doctor?
JW: No. Everything was fine. …When this all happened, it just threw us all for a loop.
LD: I can imagine.
JW: I just felt extremely lucky to, first of all, live in Santa Barbara and get really top-notch care when I was in the hospital. But I think the thing and the message to women is prevention and then to know that when you feel that something is not right, don’t wait–take the initiative to get to the doctor or get to the emergency room.
LD: What did it feel like? It doesn’t sound like the dramatic thing that you see on TV.
JW: No. My husband said that, “you didn’t clench your heart and fall over.” It happened over time. I was having what felt like indigestion … (for several days) … I called my doctor… he prescribed medicine for indigestion, so I went and got the prescription filled and it didn’t help. … In the middle of the night I woke up and the pain was incredibly intense.
… By the time I got to the hospital I was having a massive heart attack. By that time the main artery was 100% occluded.
LD: I know this is a stereotype, but do you think that women are more likely to ignore their symptoms because they’re taking care of their families?
JW: I think that is partly true. When I was at the Mayo Clinic there was a woman who said she was having angina while she was at her son’s soccer game but she didn’t want to miss the soccer game. I am grateful that most women know about getting mammograms and colonoscopies … but we need to work harder about the letting people know about the increase of heart disease among women. We must be proactive.
LD: Switching gears a little bit, what’s like to be on the Board of Supervisors?
JW: It’s very exciting; it’s very challenging and rewarding.
LD: I know you served on the Goleta School Board for 12 years, how is it different?
JW: The obvious difference is that this is a full time job and the issues are broader, but I think a lot of the same skill set transfers over … For me it’s just really important to be prepared and on top of my game. And I find the meeting’s fascinating and engaging and it’s very interesting to deal with such a variety of issues. … Trying to have a really positive impact in our community. And that’s the rewarding part. And also meeting some incredible people. I’ve been very lucky to have a great staff.
… I think … we’ve taken care of outstanding issues that the county was dealing with like uniform rules, sphere of influence, and we have some issues that are coming before us like Goleta Beach and we’re also starting the Eastern Goleta PAC that’s going to be the planning document for our community. … I’ve got a great group of colleagues too to work with. Even though we certainly …don’t agree on everything and philosophically I have a point of view they may not share, but I think there is a mutual respect.
LD: That’s always good to hear. What do you think our biggest challenges are right now as a county?
JW: Right now I think it’s aligning our budget with our priorities or our fiscal challenges with our priorities.
LD: I keep hearing at the state level the budget is going to be so bad, how does it look in the county?
JW: There have been very conservative estimates on the impact on the county budget and because of the potential there’s been certain budget principles that have been put into place that are a little troubling to me. I think we will be impacted but there are also ways on the revenue side to try and enhance that. I have requested that the board hold a budget workshop in late February or early March to review the preliminary budget so that we can have input earlier on in the process.
… It’s certainly not a rosy picture but I also don’t think it’s total a bleak picture either. … If you have to make cuts, in my opinion, you look at the whole picture and you make them timely and wisely.
Vital Stats: Janet Wolf
Born: Los Angeles, May 17, 1954
Family: Husband Harvey, three daughters, Jessica (27), Stephanie (24), and Kim (20)
Civic Involvement: Alpha Resource Center, Planned Parenthood, National Charity League, League of Women Voters, Women’s Heart Health Advocate
Professional Accomplishments: Worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for more than 20 years; served on the Goleta School Board for 12 years; current member of the County Board of Supervisors
Little-Known Fact: “I love making necklaces. It’s a new hobby. I just discovered it.”