Dr. Jesse McGee recalled the time he lost a close friend to hypertension. The sudden death of his high school classmate sparked the cardiologist’s commitment to not only saving lives in the operating room, but specifically in minority communities.
“My friend ended up bleeding into his brain because of high blood pressure,” Dr. McGee remembered. “I’ve had many instances that touched me, but after that one I decided it was my mission to make sure minorities are educated on cardiovascular health.”
As a member of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC), McGee and hundreds of other members are hoping to shed light on not only heart health, but its disparity among minorities. As part of the Association’s Spirit of the Heart Tour, a community education and health fair will be held Saturday (November 4) at the Salvation Army Kroc Center.
Celebrity health ambassador and screen actor Lamman Rucker is scheduled to attend to help bring awareness to the disease that remains the number one cause of death amongst Americans. The risk of dying from a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases is even higher for African Americans. McGee attributes many of these unfavorable statistics to lack of awareness and health insurance.
“Many times we don’t have access to health care like other races. That’s a big disparity; and often times black people don’t know how to get the proper health care,” McGee said. “Look at the dialysis centers across the city. They are filled with mainly African Americans.”
Organizers of the fair said awareness is important and that is the purpose of the event. Attendees will be able to receive free health screenings with onsite test results and speak with nutrition experts and physicians. In hopes of reaching families early, organizers have also made the event kid-friendly with a host of activities specifically for children.
“The ABC is dedicated to improving health outcomes through outreach initiatives like this tour,” Hope Allen, the tour director said. “We are excited to serve Memphis with resources and education that we trust will impact, empower and improve the quality of lives in our communities.”
The ABC’s goal is to reduce the cardiovascular disease disparity gap by 20 percent by 2025. Organizers said events such as the health fair are a major step in achieving this objective.
High blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are the most common conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association. African Americans are disproportionately affected by each of these circumstances.
Reports show that the prevalence of high blood pressure in blacks is higher than anywhere else in the world. Among blacks age 20 and older, 63 percent of men and 77 percent of women are overweight or obese; and when it comes to diabetes blacks are more likely to be affected than any other race.
“Our communities need to know what steps there are for good healthcare and how they can change their lifestyles to prevent cardiovascular diseases,” McGee said. “When they are aware and educated, then they can begin making changes that could save their lives.”
McGee hopes that the health fair will provide attendees with practical steps to help them make better lifestyle choices, including tips for better food selections and exercise options. He believes that this information could help save lives.
“I see the effects of what happens after a person has a stroke or heart attack. Many people have a downward spiral that they can’t bounce back from. They can’t go back to work or daily living,” he said. “We are hoping to change the prevalence of that.”
In his more than 40 years as a practicing cardiologist, McGee said he’s seen families lose loved ones too soon because of the disease. He admitted that in many cases it could have been prevented with better healthcare and awareness surrounding healthy living options.
“I want people to leave this conference with information that they can immediately begin applying,” McGee said. “We hope that after this event, people have behavioral changes that lead to healthier living that can ultimately save their lives.”