February is well known for being the month of hearts and flowers, but it is also American Heart Month! In honor of this, here are a few facts about cardiovascular disease in the United States. The American Heart Association reports that Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the United states with 840,768 deaths in 2016. Cardiovascular disease-or heart disease- includes hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), and heart valve problems. About every 40 seconds, an American will have a heart attack. In that same 40 seconds, another American will have a stroke. 90% of stroke risk is due to modifiable risk factors such as smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, high cholesterol, etc. These risk factors are something I try to help with at my site. I meet with hypertensive patients to modify lifestyle factors like nutrition and activity level and coordinate with community partners to eliminate barriers to maintaining medication usage including transportation, monetary or other barriers. Sometimes, something as simple as a phone call reminding a patient of their follow up appointment can mean the difference between continuity of care and 3 months without medication resulting in uncontrolled hypertension.
But today I want to focus on a different kind of heart. The heart that those I’m surrounded by give to their community. Being in National Health Corps, it came as no surprise to me that all our members shared my compassion for vulnerable populations and were determined to find solutions to empower individuals and communities to improve health outcomes. What has really stood out to me, however, is just how much heart they have put into their service. On our Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Day, our members were asked to share a challenge they have come up against and a triumph or moment that reaffirmed why they serve and I found their answers to be very telling. The common difficulty faced by our group was when our efforts were insufficient to help our clients or are blocked by institutional or systemic barriers. We were frustrated that we could not do more for our community and at the system that prevents us from doing so. Even more important though, was the fact that nearly every moment of triumph shared was not a personal one, but one of the success of our clients: a reduction in A1C or blood pressure, a connection to a specialist that was desperately needed, supplying food to a family that needed it, or connecting a patient with no health insurance to care that had had many doors slammed in their face. We thrive when those we serve thrive.
The lesson that I have taken from this is that while each of us differs dramatically in the experiences that brought us to the National Health Corps, we all have one thing in common: we have a heart for serving our communities and the drive to get things done.