By George L. Askew, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Administration for Children and Families
My dad’s a lucky guy. It was 10 years ago that my dad, a relatively young, thriving, robust, gregarious, independent and proud African American man, suffered a large stroke. It might seem strange to have me say he was lucky - but he was. My dad was many things, but as you might have noted, “healthy” wasn’t one of them. While from all external indicators he looked great, he was a ticking time bomb. His blood pressure was so high that it nearly killed him. After his stroke, he was left with some physical deficits such as moderate vision loss which means he no longer drives. But let’s get back to how he is lucky.
He happened to check his blood pressure at home one day and because of doing so he is alive. In that moment, he took the time to take charge of and responsibility for his health and well-being, and he saved his life. While he has lost some independence, he got a second chance to improve his health and begin to take even greater charge of his health - which he did. Now he doesn’t hesitate to tell other men, young and old, about the importance of taking care of themselves, particularly with respect to heart health and blood pressure.
His experience was certainly a lesson to me. My dad had not seen a primary care provider in decades. All the while, his high blood pressure was silently wreaking havoc on his body. His stroke was a warning to me, his medical doctor son who should have known better, that I needed to take better care of my heart health. But I must admit, I was then like many men who don’t, for whatever reason, place enough value on taking care of ourselves. That quickly changed. And as I spent more time with my primary care doctor and followed my slowly rising blood pressure, I was positioned to proactively address it. Today, I am working on a medical plan to keep my blood pressure under control, trying to eat healthy (though I can’t say I am always successful), taking a daily dose of aspirin, and checking my blood pressure daily.
I strongly urge men, particularly African-American men and other men of color, to see their primary care doctor. Know your health status, especially your heart health status. It is not just a matter of how you “feel.” My dad was lucky. He is alive to see how telling his story could save lives and he is watching his grandkids grow up. I want to be around to see my grandkids grow up too. Don’t you?