February is Black History Month and it’s also Heart Health Month.
It’s giving us an opportunity to recognize some incredible Nashville residents who have been game-changers in the health industry while also addressing racial disparities still existing in the community today.
The movie “Something the Lord Made” depicts the real-life story of Nashville’s Vivien Thomas, a man who overcame poverty and racial inequity to become a critical figure that pioneered modern heart surgery.
“We have a lot of people that everybody needs to be made aware of,” said Dr. Andre Churchwell, a cardiologist and chief diversity officer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Dr. Levi Watkins was the first surgeon to successfully implant an automatic defibrillator in a human being.
These are just two African-Americans with Nashville ties who made critical contributions that revolutionized the heart health industry.
Heart disease and stroke remain the No. 1 killer in America, even more common if you’re black.
“You’re less likely to be brought to the emergency room, and the time to get you there is much longer than if it happened in the white community,” said Churchwell.
“We know about issue that are unique to the white population and we have spent a lot of money in those areas, but there are clear health disparities affecting marginalized populations.”
According to the American Heart Association, African-Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes and more likely to be obese, all which contribute to heart disease.
“We’re staying at home with our heart disease and letting it get to a severe stage before we are finally brought by our family to the emergency room because we don’t trust the medical system,” said Churchwell.
Churchwell said it’s a problem that affects all of Nashville.
“We cannot be successful in this country unless we deal with health disparities that affect all groups,” said Churchwell.
The American Heart Association is working to bring health clinics into low income areas and to improving messaging, hoping to build trust between the healthcare industry and the African-American community.
“Health disparities have to be addressed on a moral basis, but if you really need to think of it as a business investment, think of it that way,” said Churchwell.
Churchwell said many people who suffer skip the doctor because they don’t have the money, choosing to feed their family instead of treating their high blood pressure and heart disease.
There’s also the suggestion that there’s limited access to health foods in low income communities, a lack of safe parks to exercise and the inability to afford transportation to access these things.