Forum in Northwest Indiana outlines how to prevent heart attacks, strokes among African-Americans - November 2, 2018

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana

Written by Giles Bruce

GARY — African-Americans develop high blood pressure earlier and more severely than other races, increasing their chances of heart attacks and strokes. They have higher rates of death from cardiovascular disease. But they get fewer treatments and medications.

These trends could be reversed with increased wellness and access to care, according to speakers at Friday’s Spirit of the Heart forum at St. Timothy Community Church. Methodist Hospitals and the Association of Black Cardiologists hosted the event to raise awareness about the troubling facts surrounding cardiovascular disease and how to prevent it.

“People take better care of their cars than they do their bodies,” said Lamann Rucker, an actor in Tyler Perry films and the Oprah Winfrey Network series “Greenleaf” who lost both his grandmothers to heart disease. “It shouldn’t have to come from a place of pain and loss for us to get involved.”

Dr. Andre Artis, a Methodist Hospitals cardiologist and board member for the Association of Black Cardiologists, said people can ward off cardiovascular disease by exercising 30 minutes a day, keeping their cholesterol levels under control and not smoking.

He said more African-Americans need to participate in clinical research to tailor treatments for them. But those trials aren’t always available in black communities.

And many African-Americans are distrustful of scientific research, a few of the speakers noted Friday, in part because of incidents like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, where the U.S. Public Health Service studied the progression of syphilis in poor black men from Alabama who didn’t know they had the disease, without treating them for it.

But Myra Selby, a former Indiana Supreme Court justice, noted that clinical studies now require informed consent, where participants are supposed to be told exactly what research is being done.

“The trials can help me help you and help many others,” Artis said.

He said trials in recent decades, some of which included participants from Gary, have designed specific cardiovascular disease care methods and medications for African-Americans.

“Treatments options have advanced,” noted Dr. Janet Seabrook, executive director of Gary-based Community Healthnet, which operates several safety-net clinics in Northwest Indiana. “But access remains a challenge, especially for those in underserved and minority communities.

She pointed out that while access to preventive care is limited, disease care is abundant. She gave as an example all the dialysis centers popping up around Northwest Indiana, including in Gary.

Other speakers noted that health insurance options are available for people of all income levels through the Affordable Care Act marketplace and the Healthy Indiana Plan, though thousands in the county don’t take advantage of the coverage.

Dr. Reuben Rutland, the Gary health commissioner and a trauma surgeon for Methodist Hospitals, encouraged people to get active, even if they haven’t been in a while — or ever.

“If you didn’t start in your 20s, start in your 30s. If you didn’t start in your 30s, start in your 40s. Start now,” he said. “Don’t run out and try to run a marathon on the first day. Walk around the block … . Do the best that you can and then do one or two steps more.”