In just the last 2 years, the following African-American celebrities died prematurely from a preventable disease. Yolanda King at 51 years of age. James Brown at 75. Luther Vandross, 54. Bebe Moore Campbell, 56. Gerald Levert, 40. Billy Preston at 59. Kirby Puckett, 45. Ronald Winans, 48. They all succumbed to cardiovascular disease (CVD), a broad term that includes myocardial infarction, stroke, and heart failure. Unfortunately, every black family has tasted the bitter fruit of a family member leaving too soon due to CVD. We should be outraged that this disease kills and cripples 50% of black grandparents and is allowed to devastate our community as a "silent" killer. While CVD is the number one cause of death in the world, it is particularly devastating to African-American communities.
A foundational belief of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) is that "children should know their grandparents so they will become GREAT grandparents." Social problems ranging from juvenile delinquency, unplanned teenage pregnancies, underachievement, and unhealthy habits can be better addressed by having more grandparents in our communities. A child is only a grandparent away from growing up to be a healthy, happy, contributing member of society. Children of other ethnicities expect to grow up knowing the nurturing and wisdom of their grandparents and even their great grandparents, but due to CVD, African-American children are fortunate if they have 1 grandparent (almost always a grandmother) by the time they graduate from high school. Who will pass on our legacy to our youth? The good news is, however, that since the founding of the ABC 33 years ago, the rate of heart disease and stroke in our community has decreased by 50%. This trend may reverse, however; since 1975, the rate of obesity and diabetes in our community has increased 50% every 10 years and it doesn’t seem to be slowing among our youth.
The most important fact that we are shouting from the rooftops is that CVD is preventable. No one should ever perish from heart disease or stroke. We are encouraged by the fact that tooth decay was a common condition only 50 years ago. But with the guidance of good science, drinking water was fluoridated and twice-yearly preventive dental check-ups were promoted. Most importantly, this campaign encouraged every citizen (including children of all ages) to take personal responsibility for their own dental health by brushing and flossing their teeth twice a day. The benefit of these changes can be seen in our own children, none of whom (who are between 15 and 40 years of age) have ever had a toothache. In addition, 90% of Americans born in the last 40 years will live to old age with the same set of teeth that they had when they were young. Most of us did not even take notice of this marvelous achievement and take dental health for granted. Can we do the same for the prevention of heart disease?
We certainly hope so, and the ABC is attempting to do its part in a number of ways. The organization developed and continues to distribute "Seven Steps to a Healthy Heart," a shorthand reminder to 1) be spiritually active; 2) take charge of blood pressure; 3) control cholesterol; 4) track blood sugar; 5) eat smart and enjoy regular exercise; 6) don’t smoke; and 7) access better health care and take medications as prescribed.
Also, by joining the ABC, members can assist in helping, advocating, and reducing diseases that rob children of the warmth and love of their grandparents. Please consider joining, and most of all, please plan to leave later.
To learn more about the organization, local programs, and ways to assist, call 800-753-9222 and ask for member services or visit online at