High blood pressure plagues many Black Americans - GulfToday

High blood pressure plagues many Black Americans

Melanese Marr-Thomas and her sons, Savion Thomas (centre), and Zachary Marr, prepare dinner at home in District Heights, Maryland. Associated Press

Melanese Marr-Thomas and her sons, Savion Thomas (centre) and Zachary Marr, prepare dinner at home in District Heights, Maryland. Associated Press

About 56% of Black adults have high blood pressure, compared to 48% of white people. Three in four African Americans are likely to develop the disorder by age 55. When the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is consistently too high, it makes the heart and blood vessels work harder and less efficiently, which can lead to significant health issues. While only 32% of white adults with high blood pressure have their condition under control with medication, the figure for Black Americans is even lower — 25%.

And it’s likely to get worse: By 2060, the number of Americans battling cardiovascular disease is expected to drastically increase. High blood pressure rates alone are projected to rise 27.2%, or from roughly 127.8 million to 162.5 million Americans. Among white people, the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and disease is projected to decrease over time. Yet significant increases are projected among people of color, especially Black and Latino Americans. It is clear that high blood pressure has played a major role in COVID deaths, and especially in the COVID deaths of Black people. Together, high blood pressure and COVID have created a deadly combination: While high blood pressure is listed as a contributing factor in 15.5% of the deaths of white COVID sufferers, the figure for Black victims is 21.4% — the highest of any racial group. Like many conditions, genetics do play a part. Experts also blame poor diets, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking — risk factors that often exist at higher rates in Black communities. In recent years, more academics and doctors have called attention to structural inequities.

The nation’s health disparities have had a tragic impact: Over the past two decades, the higher mortality rate among Black Americans resulted in 1.6 million excess deaths compared to white Americans. That higher mortality rate resulted in a cumulative loss of more than 80 million years of life due to people dying young and billions of dollars in health care and lost opportunity. “Until we reach health equity, these disparities are going to be a scar on the health care landscape in the United States,” said Dr. Keith C. Ferdinand, the Gerald S. Berenson Endowed Chair in Preventive Cardiology at Tulane University’s School of Medicine. He emphasised the importance of equal access to primary and specialty care and medications. “If we don’t do that, then we don’t have a just society,” Ferdinand said. Charles Thomas’ infectious laugh could fill any room he entered. He also was a great storyteller. It’s what made his wife, Melanese Marr-Thomas, fall in love with him decades ago when she was still a college student at Howard University in the late ’90s.

When they met, the two quickly hit it off and could spend hours just talking. But they were in vastly different places in life: While Melanese was focused on her studies, Charles was trying to survive in a particularly tough Maryland neighbourhood. He eventually cut off all ties from her with little explanation. “‘You deserve so much more than what I can give,’” Melanese recalled Charles saying to her. “I was so hurt.” Years later, she found out it was because he was struggling to find his way out of a life of selling drugs. Charles eventually had a son, Charles Thomas III, with another woman — a child whom Charles tried to be heavily involved in raising. But his street life eventually caught up with him. Charles was incarcerated off and on for much of his son’s childhood and teenage years. “He was heavy in the streets,” Charles Thomas III, 33, recalled. “But he made his presence known even when he was in jail. He would still find a way to send me gifts for Christmas. I’ll never forget the little toy car he sent me and I said ‘My daddy sent me this present,’ not putting two and two together that he was in jail.”

It took years for Charles to eventually begin the hard journey of changing his life. Years later, he acknowledged the vicious cycle he found himself in. As a young Black man, he grew up poor and bounced around various communities that all suffered from the simmering effects of racism and segregation-era policies, with little hope and few pathways to escape poverty. Eating healthy was hardly at the top of his mind, and largely out of reach. His neighborhoods were filled with fast food options, yet few grocery stores. And he was inundated with the toxic stress of living in a dangerous environment. While in prison, Charles’ health suffered, too. Healthy foods weren’t readily available and routine health care was sporadic. His wife believes his high blood pressure and other ailments could have begun while he was incarcerated.

It wasn’t until his mother died while he was in prison that Charles felt a true spark to change. “She was his backbone,” Melanese said. “But after his mother passed, he had no sense of home and he said, ‘I have to create my home and find my purpose and meaning.’” Charles and Melanese reconnected in late 2009 and rekindled their romance. The couple eventually married and blended their families. He never shied away from talking about his earlier struggles in life. He acknowledged his mistakes and instead used it as a powerful way to teach his children to avoid the pitfalls he fell prey to. “My dad, he was a great father to me and my best friend,” said Charles Thomas III, who is now a teacher. “He taught me what I needed to know. He taught me how to be self-sufficient and stand on my own two feet. When he did things that were wrong, he never made excuses for it. He always told me the truth, so I never held anything against him.”

Charles’ family is what mattered most to him. And Black fatherhood was something that he cherished. He often spent long nights staying up with his kids and wife, reminiscing and sharing fatherly wisdom — sage advice they cling to today. He worked his way up at his job as a concrete truck driver and became well respected in the company — and within his community, as a known father figure to other Black boys at his youngest son’s football games. He launched a food truck and catering business, Sol Familia Mobile Kitchen, with his wife. Everything was looking up, finally. But Charles Thomas began to feel sick around Thanksgiving in 2020. He thought it was a passing cold, but his wife was worried; the number of COVID cases was climbing, both nationally and locally, and the vaccine wasn’t yet widely available. Melanese was right. The entire family — parents and six children — would be diagnosed with COVID. But as the others got better, Charles’ condition worsened.

His wife convinced him to go to the hospital, where his oxygen levels dropped severely and he spent eight days in the intensive care unit, where he was nearly placed on a ventilator. But he recovered, and went home in time for Christmas. The family thought the worst was over. Then Charles began having trouble breathing. The smallest tasks left him breathless and taking a few steps left him tired and struggling for air. Still, in late January 2021, he decided to go back to work.

Associated Press

Related articles

Other Articles