Knowing our heart history and taking time to preserving our health by joining us in the fight to help prevent heart disease. Discovery your “Roots” and know your family heart history” Study the facts and remember to love yourself, it’s a gift that you give to others.
African American Heart Healthy History Facts
Otis Boykin (1920–1982)
The inventor Otis Boykin patented 28 electronic devices during his career. He developed resistors for electronic components that made the production of televisions and computers much more affordable, but Boykin became best known for improving the pacemaker. The pacemaker uses electrical impulses to help people maintain a regular heartbeat. Boykin came up with a control unit that regulated the pacemaker with more precision. He died of heart failure in 1982.
Daniel Hale Williams (1856–1931)
After apprenticing with a surgeon, Daniel Hale Williams earned a medical degree and started working as a surgeon in Chicago in 1884. Because of discrimination, hospitals at that time barred Black doctors from working on staff. So Dr. Williams opened the nation’s first Black-owned interracial hospital.
Provident Hospital offered training to African American interns and established America’s first school for Black nurses. On July 10, 1893, Williams successfully repaired the pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart) of a man who had been stabbed in a knife fight. The operation is considered to be the first documented successful open-heart surgery on a human, and Williams is regarded as the first African American cardiologist.
He went on to cofound the National Medical Association, and became the first Black physician admitted to the American College of Surgeons.
Michelle Obama (b. 1964)
As the first Black First Lady (2009–2017) of the United States, Michelle Obama devoted much of her energy to promoting physical health. She brought attention to the childhood obesity epidemic with her Let’s Move initiative, which encouraged young people to exercise and eat nutritious food. When Obama launched the program in 2010, she said, “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”
Obama also worked to increase access to healthier food and improve food labeling. She championed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which promotes healthier school lunches and funds meal programs for poor children. Along with current First Lady Jill Biden, Obama launched the Joining Forces program to support veterans and their families with access to health services. She is also a strong advocate for women’s health issues.
Doctor Vivien Theodore Thomas (August 29, 1910 – November 26, 1985) was an African-American surgical technician who helped developed a procedure used to treat blue baby syndrome (now known as cyanotic heart disease) in the 1940s.
Family History and Heart Disease, Stroke
Is heart disease or stroke in your family? If so, your risk may be higher.
Did your father have a stroke? Did your mother have a heart attack? Did any of your grandparents have heart disease?
Those might seem like random questions, but they’re very important when it comes to understanding your risk for these diseases. Knowing your family’s health history can help you avoid both heart disease and stroke – the No. 1 and No. 5 causes of death in America.
“Both the risk of heart disease and risk factors for heart disease are strongly linked to family history,” said William Kraus, M.D., a preventive cardiologist and research scientist at Duke University “If you have a stroke in your family, you are more likely to have one.”
How much family history do you need to know?
Dr. Kraus, who is also a volunteer for the American Heart Association, said you should share your family history with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
If you don’t know the full history, start with your immediate family. Find out if your brothers, sisters, parents or grandparents had heart disease or stroke and how old they were when they developed these diseases.
If I have a family history, what can I do about it?
Your family history provides a picture of the environment and genetics in place when these diseases occurred. “You can’t counteract your genetics,” Dr. Kraus said, and so if you have a history you must do what you can to change your environment.
That means lowering your risk by changing behaviors that can increase your chances of getting heart disease or stroke. “It’s good, healthy living – the more that can be ingrained in your family, the more impact it has,” Dr. Kraus said. “A patient should encourage better eating habits, physical activity and eliminating smoking.”
Other genetic factors to be aware of.
Even if your family has a clean bill of health, you should be aware of other genetic factors that can increase your family’s risk. For example, statistics show that African-Americans face higher risks for high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Statistics also indicate that about 1 in 3 Hispanics will have high blood pressure, and nearly half will battle high blood cholesterol.
So I’ve got history concerns … what next?
Just because your family has a history of cardiovascular disease, does not mean that you will certainly have the same diseases, it just means that you are more likely to have them. Disease is not imminent, and your health can be managed by making lifestyle changes like those included in Life’s Simple 7™.
If you want to start living a healthier life, look no further than Life’s Simple 7™. My Life Check was designed by the American Heart Association with the goal of improved health by educating the public on how best to live. These measures have one unique thing in common: any person can make these changes, the steps are not expensive to take and even modest improvements to your health will make a big difference.
Start with one or two. This simple, seven step list has been developed to deliver on the hope we all have–to live a long, productive healthy life.
Take the My Life Check assessment now! It only takes about seven minutes!