February is Heart Disease Awareness Month. It is recognized during the shortest month of the year, and now it’s almost over. Sadly, I’ve heard next to nothing about the topic during the month dedicated learning more about heart disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease accounts for more deaths than any other disease, killing about 690,000 people a year in this country. It’s a staggering number, that merits more attention.
The media, the CDC, elected officials and health organizations need to push heart disease to the forefront, especially because people do not seem to understand how important this is. We should not let another year go by, without hearing the words “heart disease” or seeing the cute “Go Red” campaigns — that really do not say much. After all, it’s that No. 1 killer disease in the United States.
About 10 years ago, the Health and Wellness Committee of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SFLHCC), over which I preside, suggested holding an annual educational luncheon focusing on heart disease. At that time, I, like most people, believed that cancer was the No, 1 killer in the country. After learning and educating myself, our board decided to host an annual lunch and panel discussion with top cardiologists to build awareness around prevention. We also wanted members to know that Blacks and Hispanics are at a much higher risk of developing heart disease.
Since then, we have brought this community much-needed information and resources. Still, there is not one person to whom I’ve talked who knows that heart disease — and not cancer — is the No. 1 killer in the country.
Heart disease is a silent killer most of the time and does not always evoke images of illness. Then, two years ago, we got hit with COVID-19 so heart-disease awareness went even lower in terms of health priorities. COVID got all the attention from the media, government, and community-based organizations. And since heart disease is not contagious, people believe there is no reason to panic — “It’s not going to happen to me,” some think.
In 2018, I was asked to serve on the advisory board of a project called Precision Medicine and Health Disparities. The University of Miami, Vanderbilt University and Meharry Medical College partnered to address health disparities, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. The purpose was to build the capacity of precision medicine approaches to address health disparities, with special concern for African Americans and Hispanics in the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee.
The experience was eye-opening. According to the CDC, an American dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease.
A few weeks ago, I lost a dear friend to a massive heart attack. He was only 44 and left a wife and two children. Two years ago, a past chair of the SFLHCC suffered a heart attack and died instantly.
The heart is our most precious organ, and its beating let’s us now that we are alive. Let’s take care of it today — and always!
Liliam M. Lopez is the founder of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation.