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January 30, 2002


African Americans Have Special Reasons To Celebrate Black History and National Heart Month in February, Says Emory Heart Surgeon William Cooper

February is National Heart Month – a time to pay attention to cardiovascular health. It is also Black History month, the month-long celebration of the contributions made by African Americans to American science, culture, government and more. According to Emory Heart Center Cardiothoracic Surgeon William Cooper, MD, the fact both Heart Month and Black History Month occur at the same time is an opportunity to see the important relationship between the two subjects.

"Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. -- but it takes an even greater toll on the African American community," says Dr. Cooper, who is Assistant Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Emory. For example, while the death rate for coronary heart disease declined by about 20 for whites in the U.S. over recent years, the overall decrease for African Americans has been only 13 percent. In addition, coronary artery disease mortality for African Americans is 40 percent higher than the death rate from heart disease for Caucasians.

"We also tend to develop cardiovascular disease and renal disease as a result of having hypertension more often than our white counterparts. We also frequently develop more end-organ damage from diabetes, including coronary atherosclerosis," says Dr. Cooper, who treats heart patients in the Carlyle Fraser Heart Center at Emory Crawford Long Hospital.

The major risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, cigarette smoking, excessive body weight, and physical inactivity. "These are problems in any community and probably more so in the African American community – in part because of the large number of African Americans who live in lower socioeconomic settings," says Dr. Cooper. " If you are economically disadvantaged, you tend to eat the cheapest, most unhealthy food and health takes a back seat to basic subsistence."

Dr. Cooper encourages black Americans to develop a proactive attitude about their health. "We need to get away from the idea that heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are just a way of life in the African American community. Perhaps your mom and dad had high blood pressure and died young, or everyone in your family has diabetes -- but you don't need to accept that you will have those problems, too, " he says. "You need to realize maybe mom was obese and never exercised and dad ate an unhealthy, high fat diet."

The good new for African Americans concerned about their heart health is that making simple choices and lifestyles changes can often make a huge difference in lowering blood pressure and preventing heart disease and diabetes. "The African American community needs to accept the reality that we have significant risk factors for these problems and we need to get the word out at churches, schools, on TV and radio so that we start thinking and acting in different, healthier ways," Dr. Cooper emphasizes.

"If you are African American and know you are at an elevated risk, go to the doctor at least once a year and have your blood pressure taken. Pay close attention to your diet and stay away from a diet filled with high fat, low fiber, high salt and fried food. Be more active. Watch your weight and minimize stress. Educate yourself by reading books, getting information from the internet, going to the library. These are things that can have a tremendous impact on your health, " Dr. Cooper says.

Celebrating Black History Month can also help you keep your heart health in mind by remembering the enormous contributions made by African American physicians whose work has impacted cardiology. For example, Daniel Hale Williams, M.D., performed the first successful surgery on a damaged pericardium (the sack containing the heart) in 1893 and Charles R. Drew, M.D., developed a technique for the long-term preservation of blood plasma that made blood banking first possible in World War II. "Dr. Drew's work in particular had an enormous impact on the ability of doctors to perform heart surgery successfully," Dr. Cooper says.

Dr. Cooper will discuss "Heart Disease in the New Millennium --- Take Control and Reduce Your Risk" on Wednesday, February 20, from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. at the Cathedral of Divine Love in Decatur (5020 Snapfinger Woods Drive.) Health screenings, offered at minimal cost, will be held following the lecture. Dr. Cooper's talk is part of Emory HeartWise Risk Reduction Program's Heart Month Lunch and Learn Series and is free for the first 100 people who register by calling 404-778-7777.

Since 1975 Emory Crawford Long Carlyle Fraser Heart Center has been recognized internationally for its work in the diagnosis treatment and prevention of heart and lung disease. The Carlyle Fraser Heart Center is part of the Emory Heart Center ranked in the top ten America's Best Hospitals by US News & World Report. Emory Hospitals include Emory University Hospital, a 587-bed hospital located on the Emory University campus in northeast Atlanta, Crawford Long Hospital, Emory's 583-bed, community-based hospital in midtown and Wesley Woods Geriatric Hospital, a 100-bed hospital located on the Emory campus. Emory Hospitals are components of EMORY HEALTHCARE, the most comprehensive health care system in Atlanta. Other components of EMORY HEALTHCARE are: The Emory Clinic, the Emory Children's Center, the jointly owned Emory-Adventist Hospital, and EHCA, LLC, a limited liability company created in collaboration with HCA Healthcare.


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