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The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing

The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing

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by Mimi Guarneri

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Every day, 2,600 Americans die of cardiovascular disease—and despite remarkable interventional and surgical procedures, over 650,000 new heart attacks occur annually.

In The Heart Speaks, Dr. Mimi Guarneri reveals groundbreaking new research that the heart is a multilayered, complex organ, possessing intelligence, memory, and decision-making


Every day, 2,600 Americans die of cardiovascular disease—and despite remarkable interventional and surgical procedures, over 650,000 new heart attacks occur annually.

In The Heart Speaks, Dr. Mimi Guarneri reveals groundbreaking new research that the heart is a multilayered, complex organ, possessing intelligence, memory, and decision-making abilities independent from the mind—and that healing the heart can have more to do with healing the mind and soul than we ever knew.

From childhood in a family riddled with heart disease to a medical career facing the pounding heartbeats of cardiac emergencies, Dr. Guarneri draws us into the intimate moments of life and death, and leads us on a riveting exploration of the heart's many mysteries. Through her compelling memoir we see that it is only by knowing the whole heart—its mental, emotional, spiritual, and universal aspects—that we can truly heal.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This deeply personal book...can change your life and might even save it."
— Dean Ornish, M.D., author of Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease and Love & Survival

"[A] groundbreaking and heartwarming book...blending the latest research with unforgettable true stories."
— Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., author of The Heart's Code

"This is an honest, informative, and moving book by a leader in the transformation of medicine and health of medicine and health care. I recommend it."
— Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Healthy Aging

"Like all genuine healers throughout history, Dr. Mimi Guarneri knows the power of story to heal, to make whole. She is a physician of the heart in all its many meanings."
— Larry Dossey, M.D., author of The Extraordinary Power of Ordinary Things

Publishers Weekly
A lyrical writer as well as a cardiologist, the author, founder and medical director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, describes how she learned that beyond the power of our most sophisticated medical equipment is a physician's humanity-"the listening ear, the healing touch, the devices of healers throughout time." Guarneri became highly accomplished at angioplasty and stent procedures, but came to realize that those she treated could also be helped by proper nutrition and stress reduction techniques such as yoga and visualization. She became committed to practices such as those of Dean Ornish, with whom she has worked, to reverse coronary disease with diet, exercise, meditation and support groups. Guarneri studied the link between depression and heart disease, and opened her mind to the validity of other alternative treatments, including energy healing, visualization before and after surgery, and spiritual practices. What is particularly attractive about this chronicle is the author's graceful integration of her own story-the destructive effect on her of stress and overwork-into those of her patients. Guarneri deplores the financial constraints that prevent doctors from spending time with patients and that many physicians have developed "a mechanic's mentality," focused on fixing rather than getting to know their patients. (Feb. 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her first book, cardiologist Guarneri (founder/medical director, Scripps Ctr. for Integrative Medicine) tours the alternative landscape of heart health and healing, weaving research summaries and her own case studies into a discussion of the effects of stress, anger, depression, grief, and prayer. She argues that a physician's compassion, patience, and empathy are key factors and that listening (a trait poorly fostered in managed-care environments) is what some patients need most. While most people probably have a general understanding of the social stressors on health, readers will likely be fascinated to learn of the heart's role as an information processing center: much like the brain, it is believed to have memory and decision-making abilities. Although at times the author's arguments seem one-sided-Guarneri presents evidence of the efficacy of prayer yet fails to note recent studies (e.g., Duke University's MANTRA II study) showing no outcome differences with remote prayer-they are ultimately persuasive. Most other alternative heart health books focus on diet, exercise, and herbs. Optimistic and heartfelt, this is recommended for public libraries.-Andy Wickens, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Biography of the Heart

The heart I learned about in medical school was a simple mechanical pump, a ten-ounce, fist-size organ that beat an average of 72 times a minute, more than 100,000 times a day. It was a four-chambered muscle, similar to those in whales and sparrows, whose sole purpose was to transport oxygenated blood to the brain and other organs.

I was trained to view the heart as a distinct, isolated organ that could be easily diagrammed and modeled in plastic, that could be regulated by a pacemaker, transplanted with a donor's, and bypassed during open-heart surgery with the help of a machine.

I was taught that while people might sing of broken or stolen or wounded hearts, in fact this hollow muscle had no relationship to the emotions, intellect, or soul.

My job as a cardiologist was to sit in my office and wait for someone to have a heart attack, then rush in and try to save him. I was trained to be a cool, heroic figure who swooped into the emergency room, found blockages, and opened them.

My role was technical; my tools were catheters and stents, plastic and stainless steel. In the cath lab, where I spent most of my early doctoring years, I worked on patients in the most intimate way possible — on their living, beating hearts — yet they were in a large sense invisible to me. They passed by, a blur of indistinct faces, with lives I rarely had the time to consider. I spent my days propping open their arteries with metal sleeves called stents, without considering why they had closed in the first place.

I was taught that other parts of my patient's body were for different specialists to manage. Renal, pulmonary, and neuro doctors all had their own regions of expertise.

The mind and spirit were no one's territory. Ministers, psychologists, massage therapists — professionals in the outside world — would be the ones to deal with whatever trauma, heartache, grief, or other emotions plagued my heart patients.

No one spoke of the other layers of the heart that didn't appear on a stress test or electrocardiogram: the mental heart, affected by hostility, stress, and depression, the emotional heart that could be crushed by loss, the intelligent heart that has a nervous system of its own and communicates with the brain and other parts of the body. No one lectured about the spiritual heart that yearns for a higher purpose, the universal heart that communicates with others, or the original heart that beats in the unborn fetus before the brain is formed.

Yet other cultures and spiritual traditions have shared more complex views about the nature of the heart. The Greeks believed the spirit resided in the heart. In traditional Chinese medicine, the heart is believed to store the spirit, shen. The idea of the heart as an inner book, which contains a record of a person's entire life — emotions, ideas, and memories — appears in early Christian theology, but may have ancient roots that go back to Egyptian culture.

No other part of the human body has been so widely commemorated in poetry, so commonly used as a symbol for love and the soul, so frequently appropriated for religious purposes. The heart shows up in ancient stained-glass windows, on Victorian valentine boxes, in Shakespearean sonnets, and in a thousand love songs.

Yet from an early age, I knew that the human heart held our deepest powers and secrets. Heart disease, with its layers of grief and guilt, stress and love, had blasted a hole through the center of my own family.

On an evening when I was eight years old, my vivacious forty-year-old mother told me she had pain in her chest, then got into bed and died of a heart attack. That my mother — so young and alive — could simply cease to be was a defining event for me, the shock of my young life. My father's subsequent death from heart disease at fifty, almost a decade later, was surely hastened by this tragedy in our family.

Part of the reason I became a heart doctor was to overcome the powerlessness I felt as a young girl that night in Brooklyn when my mother was taken from me. Perhaps by becoming a cardiologist, I was trying in some symbolic way to reach back in time and heal the hearts in the middle of my family that had stopped beating far too soon.

This book, then, is the story of how I was trained to see the heart as a simple mechanical pump and was led by my patients to appreciate it as a center of great complexity and power.

I view the heart now as a flower, one exquisite layer opening to the next. It is to this large, multilayered heart of feeling and poetry, intelligence and spirit that I have dedicated my life.

Listening to the Heart

It is difficult for most of us to imagine the heart, since until recently, it's been impossible to actually see.

We're more familiar with the functioning of our laptops, the operating instructions for our DVDs, than we are with this powerhouse, pounding in the center of our chests. In fact, we rarely even consider the heart unless a doctor warns us that it's weak or sick or about to fail.

This may be why the sudden sight of her heart on an echocardiogram monitor made my patient, a buttoned-down accountant, burst into tears: "There's my heart! Oh God, look at it!" she exclaimed, as if she were coming face-to-face with an unexpected wonder or marvel, which indeed she was.

Through imaging technology such as echocardiograms, it is now possible to view what was previously left to dry academic description or floating formaldehyde specimens — our own living, beating hearts.

Yet the total heart in all its complexity and power cannot ever be fully fathomed by simply looking at a screen.

Clearly perceiving the heart involves more than studying an echocardiogram; listening to it requires more than a stethoscope.

Each heart has its own biography, language, and method of revealing its truth, if we know how to listen.

In The Heart Speaks, I will explore what patients have revealed to me about the true nature of this multilayered and complex organ by sharing their stories and their lives as well as the new science that puts the heart at the center of our intelligence, decision-making power, and memory.

Copyright © 2006 by Erminia Guarneri, M.D.

Meet the Author

Dr. Mimi Guarneri is founder and medical director of Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine and has been an attending physician in cardiovascular disease at Scripps Clinic since 1995. Dr. Guarneri is the author of numerous articles that have appeared in such journals as the Annals of Internal Medicine and the Journal of Echocardiology. She has been nominated for the Bravewell Award in IM Leadership and honored by the American Heart Association. She is board certified in cardiology and internal medicine. She lives in La Jolla, California.

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Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At age 44, I recently suffered a near fatal heart attack. After reading this book, I can look back and reflect on how many of the things that Dr. G writes about are definitely true. She also discussed many issues that a dcotor may or may not tell you to look for or things to do in addition to the routine medical stuff. For example, you do need to treat your heart emotionally and spiritually as well as physically. This is a must read for those who have heart disease of some sort, as well as for those who are at risk for heart disease. Give one to your family members or friends. This book could save their life!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much. The text flows and you can feel the compassion and intellegence of the author. I happen to be an ex-employee and a patient at SCRIPPS in La Jolla. Dr Mimi is well respected in the local, as well as the medical community for her wonderful work in unlocking the secrets of heart disease (both physical and emotional). I have recently dealt with the deaths of both a younger brother (34/cancer) and sister (32/murder)and always wondered what physical changes cause a person to feel 'broken hearted'. I am also finding my way thro a new diagnosis of heart disease myself. I recommend this book for anyone who is a cardiac patient or who loves someone with heart disease. I bought several copies and gave them out as gifts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Science, stories, research, statistics, and a unique perspective on medicine from an experienced and overly qualified cardiologist; there is not much more you could get out of a book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago