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Columbia Inspired

From the Heart

Feb 26, 2021 02:00PM ● By Katrina Hall

Certainly, many of the caregivers among us have used the trusty phrase “I’m fine” when they speak to their doctors about how they’re doing at any given visit. All too often, women delay or neglect their personal care in order to consistently provide for others. In the United States, Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for all ages, races, and genders, with the CDC estimating that 655,000 Americans die per year. In 2020, one person in the U.S. died from CVD every 36 seconds, the amount of time it takes to read this paragraph.

Nette Stokes Founder of JustLiving Advocacy

 For women of color, a stoic face is a double-edged sword. Getting it done no matter what can take them away from their families  in a heartbeat. Black women account for over 50,000 cardiovascular deaths annually, even more disturbing, they are also passing away from their first cardiovascular event at a faster rate than other groups. This disproportionate mortality rate is complex, but a lack of screening, appropriate risk assessment, and socioeconomic factors all play prominent roles in these deadly statistics  of CVD. According to the CDC black women, aged 20 or older, have a staggering 49% incidence of cardiovascular disease. Nette Stokes of JustLiving Advocacy touts practical wisdom: “It’s not a ‘Grandma disease. It is a disease of poverty. It is something that is prevalent…and preventable.”

The loss of the female head of the household to a cardiovascular event is universally devastating. In black families, where the breadwinner is female 84% of the time, this devastating loss can dissolve the stability for her children and subsequent caregivers for generations. This cycle continues to disproportionately affect families already at risk of poverty or already generationally impoverished to a high degree. 

Stokes developed a passion for not only uplifting single mothers and caregivers out of poverty, but for educating them about the all-too-real risk that stress and a lack of care can pose to their hearts. “I lost my mother to a heart attack when she was only 54 years old. My mom was that single mom. Babysitting in the neighborhood and stressing herself into an early grave.” The personal toll of heart disease in black women has shaped JustLiving Advocacy’s vision in promoting self-advocacy, education, and an increase in resources when it comes to fighting CVD. 

Changing the way we offer care to impoverished families has to change as well. Promoting awareness and testing availability are all tools that public and personal health professionals can use to fight CVD.  “Women need to get heart check-ups. You need to know your status, your numbers and the risk factors. Hypertension, diabetes, prediabetes, and obesity all play a role in cardiovascular outcomes,” says Stokes. She also suggests doctors be prepared to “step on the other side of the desk” relaying these risks to susceptible groups and fostering openness in healthcare discussions. 

It is important for women to be thorough with their doctors about family history, symptoms, noticeable changes in their bodies , and tracking risk factors for CVD in order to best protect themselves from adverse cardiovascular events. Being educated on what heart disease looks like in women and what tests to ask for during check ups are two ways JustLiving Advocacy is looking to change the story of women and heart disease. 

A few extra minutes of care can mean more time with your loved ones. To find more resources on heart health, check out and The American Heart Association website.

One of JustLiving Advocacy’s goals is to help create health equity by educating as many women as they can on the perils of heart health, and teach them how to protect themselves and their families. To find out more information on JustLiving Advocacy please don’t hesitate to check out their website .

Main Image (left to right): 
Kerron Moore, President & CEO of Moore Solutions Consulting, LLC (JLA Board Member)
Trinity Parker, Junior Community Volunteer & Advocate 
Charlee Stokes, Community Volunteer (In Training)
Paula Blackwell, Executive Director, Central Maryland Area Health Education Center (JLA Board Member)
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