To speak with cardiologist L. Veronica Lee, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, is to stop worrying for a moment about the diet/exercise/motivation conundrum of modern life, especially if you’re a middle-aged person who drives everywhere, eats on the go and tends to relax in front of the television. A 10-minute conversation with Lee leaves the reassuring impression that maybe things aren’t so complicated after all.
In 15 years as a physician, Lee has seen fad diets come and go, but good health, she believes, depends on balance. And while the low-carbohydrate trend of the past few years may have helped many people to lose weight, it seems to Lee that most of them gain it back over time.
“The reality is we need to have a well-balanced diet. You can go for short-term gains, but if you’re throwing your system out of whack, the results are probably going to be short-lived as well,” says Lee, who sees patients four days a week in the Yale Medical Group (YMG) practice at the Yale-New Haven Shoreline Medical Center in Guilford and on Fridays in New Haven. “The bottom line is you need a lifestyle you can live with so that you can achieve your target and maintain it. That’s how people achieve the most success.”
Trained at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Harvard School of Public Health and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Lee came to Yale in September from St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach, Fla., where she was in private cardiology practice for three years and developed prevention strategies.
Lee’s research focus—and the driving force behind her work with patients—is prevention. Ideally, Lee wants to help patients head off cardiovascular disease entirely, but she also works to prevent it from recurring in patients who have suffered a heart attack. And she has a special interest in preventing heart disease in women.
“Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in women; stroke and heart attack are very significant players in mortality in women, and the numbers have been climbing,” Lee, a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, says. “Men are getting earlier, better and more aggressive treatment. They’re cutting back on smoking, they’re exercising more than women. Women are lagging behind in exercise, and we’re seeing an increase in smoking. Women’s rate of heart disease is on the rise.”
According to the American Heart Association, more women than men have died of cardiovascular disease—a category that includes coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes—every year since 1984.
In her practice, Lee helps patients set nutritional goals and works out customized diet and exercise plans to lower the risk of illness. “For everyone, there are different ways of getting themselves off the couch and eating the right things,” she says. “I try to assess the approach that’s going to work for a particular person.”
Lee is part of a new influx of Yale physicians to the Shoreline center, an 80,000-square-foot facility near Interstate 95 that opened in July 2004. YMG, the medical school’s 700-member faculty practice, staffs the center’s emergency department and its anesthesiology, diagnostic imaging, pathology, laboratory medicine and radiation oncology services. Now specialists in cardiovascular medicine, pediatric cardiology and surgical specialties—including urology, cardiothoracic, hand and cosmetic and reconstructive surgery —are spending one or more days a week in Guilford as a convenience to patients who live east of New Haven.
For Lee, whose exam room window looks out on a grove of oak trees, the Shoreline center provides a perfect setting to convey her message of prevention. “Environment is a key point,” she says. “If it’s a beautiful location and it’s soothing, then it creates a warmer and more nurturing environment that goes along with the whole notion of prevention.”
Lee’s hopeful outlook would also be soothing to any patient casting aside entrenched old habits on the sometimes difficult road to a healthy lifestyle. “There’s no such thing as failure,” she says. “If you slip, you just get back up and keep trying.”