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Dr. Nieca Goldberg: Deep in the Heart

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On a spring lunch hour, a handful of women in tights are bouncing and stretching in front of a mirror as an amped-up instructor shouts commands. It would seem to be an aerobics class like any other, if not for the nearby defibrillator or the nurse keeping an eye on their EKGs. The session is just one part of the curriculum at Lenox Hill's Women's Heart Program, the only program of its kind in the city, founded by Dr. Nieca Goldberg, 41, who has made it her mission to give women in the early stages of heart disease as well as those recovering from surgery a place to focus on their treatment and themselves. "There is an emotional piece of it that's unique," says Susan Bishop of the American Heart Association. "Dr. Goldberg's special connection gets women to take themselves and their symptoms seriously. They are all each other's cheerleaders." Though heart disease kills more women than any other illness, women -- and even some doctors -- tend to downplay its dangers. "They're used to putting their family first or they say they work too hard to take care of themselves," says Goldberg, recalling that one of her patients, in desperate need of a bypass, wanted to postpone the surgery until after her daughter's bridal shower. Prevention is a big part of Goldberg's mantra, from exercise to diet to smoking cessation, but she is careful to note that everyone needs her own realistic game plan. "You don't have to do Olympic athletics," she says. "Get off the subway a stop earlier; walk the dog." In the exercise studio, Goldberg points to the floor-to-ceiling windows that face a Häagen-Dazs, a Krispy Kreme, and a McDonald's. "We joke about that," she laughs. Neither she nor her patients would dare enter the golden arches, of course -- a fact that those in her care can verify. "I saw her in D'Agostino," says a patient, "and she had all the right foods in her cart."


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