When it comes to health, your ZIP code makes a bigger difference than your genetic code — especially in Charlotte, where people have a harder time rising out of poverty than in most other U.S. cities.
The American Heart Association wants to change this. In addition to their renowned research and signature charity events, AHA is determined to empower people in underserved Queen City communities with access to heart healthcare and prevention.
"Your ZIP code shouldn't determine your life expectancy," says AHA-Charlotte Director of Marketing and Communications Lynn Grayson. "We're making a concerted effort in Mecklenburg County to work with like-minded organizations to provide everyone, regardless of their neighborhood, with the resources they need to stay healthy and prevent heart disease."
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in this country, but it is 80% preventable. Even small lifestyle changes, like building short walks into your workday, can make a difference. And being aware of your blood pressure is key to preventing hypertension — a leading risk factor for heart disease.
The American Heart Association is tackling hypertension prevention in Charlotte by opening blood pressure kiosks in May of 2019 at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus on Wilkinson Boulevard and Camino Community Center on Stetson Drive. These kiosks, sponsored by Albemarle Foundation and CVS Health, are located next to free or affordable health clinics, so people at any income level can monitor their own blood pressure and seek care immediately if their levels are high.
AHA also recognizes that not all cardiac emergencies can be prevented. In an effort to provide a cardiac safety net for the community, the organization, along with Novant Health, Atrium Health and MEDIC, have launched PulsePoint, a mobile app that alerts trained responders to nearby cardiac emergencies and even shows them where to find the nearest defibrillator kit. "Getting CPR from a bystander can double or even triple survival rates in a cardiac emergency," says Lynn. "Anything that helps bystanders perform CPR or find a defibrillator can truly save lives."
Target:BP™ is another tool being implemented by AHA. The nationwide initiative helps healthcare providers and patients improve blood pressure control. Novant Health hospitals and practices have adopted the AHA’s Target:BP and received national recognition for having 70% or more of patients’ blood pressures under control. “That's more than one million patients who are all receiving the same level of attention and care to their blood pressure, regardless of their ZIP code," says Lynn. "That's a huge win for our community."
How You Can Help
The AHA is taking big steps to address heart health equity, but they actually have a small staff in Charlotte. Every ounce of assistance provided by volunteers helps the AHA in its efforts to save lives in our community.
"There are so many ways to help, whether it's a signature event like the Heart Walk or the Go Red for Women Luncheon, or being an ambassador by spreading the word about our work," says Lynn. "Having feet on the ground in the community is very helpful."
AHA also needs volunteers to help teach hands-only CPR and for community programs at clinics, health fairs, and local schools. Get involved by visiting the AHA Charlotte website or by calling 704.417.5751. You can also follow AHA on Twitter and Instagram @HeartofCLT and on Facebook @CharlotteAHA.
Let's continue the conversation about heart health in Charlotte. Do you have a survivor story? Did you make a lifestyle change that improved your heart health? AHA wants to know about it! Your story could help save a life. Contact Lynn Grayson, Director of Marketing and Communications, at Lynn.Grayson@heart.org to share your experience.
Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer specializing in storytelling for nonprofits. Learn more at gracekennedy.net.