Dr Walton-Shirley performs invasive cardiology, nuclear cardiology, and stress echocardiography in a private practice in Glasgow, KY.
Her chief medical interests are CHF/hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy and the promotion of primary PCI for acute MI. Recently she played a significant role in helping to launch an ambitious pilot study of primary PCI in Kentucky, the Kentucky Primary Angioplasty Pilot Project. She has also participated in the TIMI 19, Duke-HF, NRMI, and CRUSADE trials and is proud to have been an advocate of the first smoke-free initiative in Kentucky (2011). She champions a smoke-free America.
Dr Walton-Shirley received her undergraduate degree at the University of Kentucky and went to medical school and did her residency and fellowship at the University of Louisville. She is married with two daughters. Her interests include singing, writing poetry and songs, fitness, and, of course, theheart.org.
Follow on Twitter
Heartfelt with Dr Melissa Walton-ShirleyView all posts »
Glasgow, Kentucky goes smoke-free: War and Peace, part 1Mar 26, 2010 09:49 EDT
On Monday evening, March 22, 2010, the county seat of the largest tobacco-producing area in the world banned smoking in all public buildings. The Glasgow City Council voted 6-5 in favor of protection because one of the opposition was ill. Two weeks prior, at the first reading of the ordinance, in an election year, the mayor took the high road and cast the tie-breaking vote to go "smoke-free." No doubt, the great tobacco god is angry tonight. For generations to come, the number of sacrifices made to this bloodthirsty and cruel deceiver will be greatly reduced. The worst of it for many smokers is that they will simply have to step outside to "enjoy" their cigarette, but make no mistake, they are "madder than hell." I'd like to report to you on this historic cultural change in south-central Kentucky, but it's very difficult to put this 20-year battle into just a few paragraphs.
I came home in 1991 as a private-practice invasive cardiologist and wrote a piece for the local newspaper about a futuristic museum with an exhibit displaying a cigarette lighter. I described it as the catalyst for the murder of millions of victims. A letter to the editor started a public dialogue with my father, who wrote that he was ashamed that "his daughter, a child of a tobacco farmer" would "turn her back" on an industry that "paid for her education." I agree that blood money purchased the forbidden fruit that opened my eyes forever, but the letter did nothing to deter me. After my father lost his brothers and many of his friends to cancer and vascular disease, he changed his position. I spent my days in the ER, cardiology department, and my office talking about the ravages of tobacco use. I spoke to the local rotary club, the women's clubs, churches, wrote newspaper articles, and did radio and television spots, but driving change here was like watching paint dry. My mother asked me one day, after a friend complained about my efforts, why I just didn't "let folks smoke and die if that is what they really wanted to do." I replied, "I've never seen any of them enjoy the suffering at the end." I knew then that I was really trying to save a population of people who really didn't want to be saved. It was completely discouraging.
In 2007, I learned that our local magistrates denied a very brave Barren County Health Department nurse the ability to make the department grounds smoke-free. She should have never tried to go it alone. They humiliated her, and she never tried it again. I decided to approach the city council on the same subject, but we had to table the first vote for lack of support. I was shocked to learn that the prevention of death and dying could be such a controversial topic. After we spent a year of floundering, Joyce Adkins, a local [Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy] KY-ASAP team member, supplied us with encouragement, organization, and sage advice. However, make no mistake, in a population of around 16 000 people, a group of about 10 of us really effected this change. It was the same 10 folks who met regularly, walked the streets, and gathered around 600 signatures, with only 70 in opposition. The majority of the doors were opened to us with welcoming gratitude, but a few crusty smokers and "patriots" slammed it in our faces. I found fear to be a common theme among many of our citizens, who knew all too well they might wind up as local chat room fodder if they stuck their necks out in a public arena. I've learned I'm a dictator, an alcoholic (I'm a teetotaler), have abandoned my patients, and I "refuse to go to the ER to treat sick people," from one local blog. I spent a long dark weekend in 2008 in a complete funk. Fortunately, as the old saying goes, those things are truly "character building." Indeed, the motivation from those cowards is second only to our quest to save grandparents from extinction and no doubt deserves much credit for our success.
We admit that we are proud. We have changed our little area of the US forever. Children of future generations will ask their parents for a college education and will receive knowledge and earning power that will lift them out of poverty. Dollars will go for education now instead of being used to fund smoke inhalation. Grandparents untethered from oxygen tanks will run and play with their grandchildren and will live to see them married and happy and perhaps even meet their great-grandchildren. Teens will no longer sit in hospital rooms and write book reports and study for exams while their parents finish their chemo treatments or lay dying of tobacco-related illness. Millions of dollars will be saved that would have otherwise been spent on asthma-related ER admissions, heart-disease therapy, or lung ailments induced by smoke exposure in the workplace.
It has been a long, hard battle, lonely at times, frustrating at times, but worth it in order to prevent another generation from being lost to the tobacco culture. I am still amazed at how much I learned about human nature during this campaign. The "personal freedom fighters" were mostly addicts channeling Uncle Sam, fighting against the possibility of having to step outside and smoke at the exact same one-ppd rate they've always done. Their brand of patriotism is visceral, much like that of an ameba that only senses light, heat, or water, but in their case, it's responding to the negative stimulus of just having to step outside to smoke. It's also been amusing at times. Only in Glasgow, Kentucky would a man with a laryngectomy stand up in support of public smoking. I had my "butt" chewed by a fat elderly lady who met her boyfriend on the internet and Facebooked me to harass me. A "crazy lady" who waved the American flag while driving her vehicle completely plastered with prosmoking stickers, radio blaring Lee Greenwood's "I'm proud to be an American," had to be escorted out of city council chambers. Those things were actually welcome comic relief. After all of that negativity, an invisible force field of love and gratitude enveloped me just after the first reading of the ordinance. My niece, who has cystic fibrosis, waited patiently while the fat lady cursed me. She threw her arms around my neck, whispering over and over, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Aunt Missie." I am still smiling.
I thank God, my husband, my friends, and my family for supporting us and sustaining us during every single step of this pilgrimage to a safer Glasgow, Kentucky. We are all battle-worn but ready to defend the right to breathe clean air in every public building in this city. After we've had a little rest, we plan to get up, pack, and start again on the long and tedious journey to yet another smoke-free city. It will no doubt be the beginning of the first chapter of War and Peace, part 2.