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While heart disease is the No. 1 killer for all Americans, African Americans are at even higher risk for the disease. African American men are at the highest risk for heart disease, and more than 40 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Altogether, nearly 44 percent of African American men and 48 percent of African American women have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke.
Heart valve disease refers to a group of problems people experience with heart valves, the gatekeepers that open and close so blood can circulate correctly into and out of the heart chambers.
Heart valve disease is not always easily diagnosed. Some people experience no symptoms at all, while others show very noticeable symptoms, which can develop quickly if the condition is severe. A heart valve diagnosis may seem overwhelming, but with proper treatment, most people are able to recover and return to a normal, healthy lifestyle.
The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) recently launched a program designed to help the millions of Americans diagnosed every year with heart valve disease. The Heart Valve Ambassador Program is an effort to raise awareness about heart valve disease, support others struggling with the disease and share available resources with patients and caregivers.
The AHA/ASA ambassadors make up a volunteer-based group of heart valve disease survivors and caregivers who are leaders in the patient community. As survivors they understand the physical, emotional and social impact heart valve disease can have on patients and caregivers. By sharing their personal experiences, the ambassadors help those newly diagnosed with the disease understand what to expect and reassure them they’re not alone.
Heart Valve Ambassador Robert Epps shared his personal story with me in order to offer help and hope to others. The retired U.S. Coast Guard Sr. Chief Petty Officer underwent open heart surgery after his heart valve issues were detected during a regular check-up. He went on to found the National Organization for Aortic Awareness. Also joining him was American Heart Association Spokesperson Eldrin Lewis, M.D., M.P.H., who discussed more information about heart valve disease and the Heart Valve Ambassador Program.
Take a listen to our chat below.
For more information, visit: www.heart.org/heartvalves
Meet Our Guests:
Eldrin Lewis, MD, MPH
Dr. Eldrin Lewis is in his 13th year as a faculty member in the cardiovascular division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was one of the first recipients of the Minority Faculty Development Award, which is a 7-year award given to promising young physicians with research potential. He is involved with several large, international clinical trials and has approximately 100 publications during his career. He also received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study the role of quality of life assessment in clinical decision making in patients with heart failure and several grants from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Lewis is Immediate Past Chair of the American Heart Association Heart Failure and Transplant committee and Director of the Cardiology clerkship for Harvard Medical School students who rotate at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is also Chair of the AHA Founders Affiliate Research Committee and a member of the AHA Founders Affiliate Board of Trustees. Dr. Lewis is an international expert in the area of quality of life and heart failure and serves on scientific committees to review grants for the American Heart Association and the FDA Task Force for the Standardization of Definitions for Endpoint Events in Cardiovascular Trials. He is also an Associate Editor for Circulation-Heart Failure and serves on several editorial boards of other journals.
Raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, Robert joined the U. S. Coast Guard at the age of 18. At the age of 31, Robert’s largest artery – the aorta – tore. Three surgeries and 24 years later, Robert is a patient advocate for cardiovascular health, passionate speaker, author, and hospital volunteer and the founder of the National Organization for Aortic Awareness Foundation.
His miraculous story has been featured in Ebony Magazine, newspapers, the American Heart Association website and other national publications. Because of his reconstructed aorta he has established the first aortic Health foundation that focuses on the entire aorta to raise public awareness of aortic health.
Through his foundation Robert works closely with the leading aortic experts sharing insight and experience, and discussing common challenges and exploring creative solutions. Through his 501(c)(3) charity he conducts free aortic health awareness presentations for the local community.
Robert is retired SCPO of the U. S. Coast Guard, an active member of the Disabled American Veterans, Mended Hearts, Inc., Toastmasters International, a steering committee member and featured patient for the Thoracic Aortic Disease Coalition (TADCO). He is a graduate of Dale Carnegie training and former culinary professional.
He and his wife of 27 years have a 16-year-old son and reside in Chesapeake, VA.