The Overlook Cardiac Health Fair, an annual event that offers an opportunity for the community to better understand cardiovascular disease, innovations in its treatment and their own heart health, celebrated its 20th year by honoring its founders, including the physician who has delivered its keynote address each year.

William Tansey, MD, a cardiologist with the Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute at Overlook Hospital, was honored on Saturday, June 12, 2010, by the American Heart Association and the Liberty Science Center for delivering the keynote speech for the fair for each of its 20 years. Tansey and Joyce Passen, manager of community health, were also honored by Overlook for starting the fair in 1990.

"Dr. Tansey has been a great friend and champion of the American Heart Association for many years and he has helped us achieve some very important legislative victories that are improving the health of all New Jerseyans," said Ed Remsen, regional vice president of New Jersey Field Operations for the American Heart Association. "We salute his vision and consistency for these past 20 years so that this Cardiac Health Fair can help thousands of people understand their risks and improve their lives."

Held at the Short Hills Hilton, more than 200 people attended this year's fair, one of the area's longest-running health events. The fair typically offers screenings for heart health, such as blood pressure and cholesterol tests, by Overlook Hospital's Community Health Department, as well as presentations on advances in cardiac care by physicians from Overlook Hospital's Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute. Since its inception, the fair has become incrementally more complex, in terms of both the information offered and how it is presented, to keep pace with its audience's appetite for knowledge, Passen said. The early fairs, which relied on slideshows and lectures on subjects such as how stents work, now seem modest compared to more elaborate electronic and interactive presentations and more elaborate subject matter. Visitors to the fair, once mostly elderly people, have skewed younger, and have already begun research into heart health on their own.

"I've seen where the thirst is, and the community has become so educated that we have had to match their demand for information," Passen said. "This year there were people outside the grand ballroom on their laptops, and people walking around putting information into their PDAs. We've never seen that before."

This year, visitors were able to experience a new addition to the fair, the "Walk in the Heart," an inflatable walk-through model of a heart that has been used to educate elementary school students who visit Overlook Hospital for field trips. The exhibit is expected to travel to different locations in the near future.

Rosa Catala, director of online and early childhood education at the Liberty Science Center, presented Tansey with a plaque honoring him as a Community Volunteer Extraordinaire. Tansey is chairman of the board for Liberty Science Center, and was integral in the creation of the "Live From… Cardiac Classroom" program, in which students at the science center can watch and interact with heart surgeons at Morristown Memorial Hospital during a live heart surgery.

"This program encourages thousands of young people to personally experience a variety of health science careers by interacting with medical staff during a live operation," Catala said. "This program provides important information about heart disease and risk factors. Dr. Tansey has donated much of his time and effort in highlighting cardiovascular diseases and education."

For his 20th keynote speech, Tansey offered a retrospective of his previous speeches, giving the audience a look at the varied and creative approach he had taken to explain heart disease, treatment and health in the last 20 years.

"The common theme for me and other presenters at the fair has been to interpret much of what appears in the news on a regular basis to empower individuals to take better care of themselves as well as families and friends," Tansey said. "We have also sought to highlight the clinical excellence of Overlook Hospital. Members of our surrounding communities deserve to be proud and confident of the health care facility upon which they depend when cardiovascular emergency occurs. Many of the now-common quality measures in New Jersey originated at Overlook over the past several years."

Steven Sheris, MD, chief of cardiology for Gagnon at Overlook, lauded his colleague, Tansey, and said that the annual fair had become a resource to the community.

"These honors are also a tribute to his leadership and mentorships to the other cardiologists throughout Atlantic Health," Sheris said of Tansey. "He has truly demonstrated his commitment to patient education. "Through this fair, visitors can see that heart health is about more than treatments and prescriptions, but also about being concerned about the patient as a whole."

Sheris emphasized that point in his own presentation, "Heart Disease: It's All in Your Head," in which he discussed the relationship of the mind and the heart. Sheris noted that cardiovascular patients can often experience depression after incidents such as heart attacks or after surgical procedures. Laughter, Sheris added, is often among the best prescriptions, as it mimics aerobic exercise, and increases heart rate and blood pressure.

"One thing we tell families is, it's okay to laugh around patients," Sheris said. "Humor and laughter are cheap, they are non-polluting, and available to everybody. People just need to be attuned to the things in their lives that make them feel good."

The event also featured a presentation by Donald Casey, MD, Vice President of Quality, and Chief Medical Officer, chief of research and academics for Atlantic Health, titled "How We Make Healthcare Better & Safer for Patients."