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Patient Story - Sister Rita Eileen Dean

No Warning Signs

Free Dare to C.A.R.E. screening leads to life-saving diagnosis

Sister Rita Eileen DeanThis time last year, Sister Rita Eileen Dean, vice president of Mission Integration and Sponsorship at Dignity Health Dominican Hospital, did something simple that likely saved her life – she had a free cardiovascular screening that’s available to the Santa Cruz County community.

“When I see an opportunity to take care of my health in advance, I take it,” she said. 

Through Dominican Hospital’s Dare to C.A.R.E. program, Sister Rita had a free 15-minute, painless, noninvasive ultrasound of her neck, abdomen, and legs to check for common vascular diseases:

  • Carotid artery disease, which causes strokes
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm, which is highly deadly if the aneurysm bursts
  • Renal artery disease, which when left untreated can lead to serious kidney disease requiring hemodialysis
  • Extremity artery disease, which can cause serious complications in the lower legs and, in severe cases, may lead to amputation

During the appointment, she received her results – and was immediately referred to her physician for additional testing. The following week, she learned she had a carotid artery that was 98 percent blocked.  

She was shocked. “I didn’t fit the normal criteria, and I always had low cholesterol,” she explained. “But I was a stroke waiting to happen.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, and kills approximately 610,000 people in the U.S. each year. If found early, most types of cardiovascular disease can be successfully managed or treated with lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and different types of medication. However, in more serious conditions, like Sister Rita’s, surgery may be needed to repair an aneurysm or to restore an artery’s blood flow.

Within a month, she had surgery to repair her carotid artery, and now, 10 months later, she’s doing great.

“I had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” said Sister Rita, adding that “whenever I see the program advertised, I always encourage people to take care of themselves.”

“This is a vital program that every community should have,” said cardiothoracic surgeon and Dominican Hospital’s medical director of the extracorporeal life support (ECLS) program Bilal Shafi, MD., who was instrumental in bringing the Dare to C.A.R.E program to Dominican. “It’s far better to prevent the disease entirely than it is to treat the complications of the disease.”

The risk of cardiovascular disease increases with age. People who are eligible for the free screenings are adults age 60 or older, adults age 50 or older with one or more risk factors (diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoker), and adults age 40 or older with diabetes.

Since the program’s inception in June 2016, more than 1,700 community members have participated. Of those, approximately 12 percent of the results have been positive, which means individuals were referred back to their physicians for additional testing. 

But if disease is found, there’s a great collaboration between primary care doctors and specialists. “Overall, it's created a stronger tie with the community and the physicians involved who take care of the patients,” said Dr. Shafi.

To learn more about the Dare to C.A.R.E. program or to schedule your free screening, please call (831) 462-7788 or visit