From heart to heart | health news


Like many African-Americans, heart disease and high blood pressure affected the families of two local black women who are now working to reduce their frequency in minority communities.

Devita Stallings, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing at Saint Louis University Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing, recently received a $50,000 donation Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences [ICTS] grant to improve health outcomes for African Americans.

The ICTS is a research consortium led by Washington University, of which Saint Louis University is a member, and Stallings is using it for community research and development of an app for self-monitoring of hypertension among African-American patients.

“We need more researchers doing this work to improve the quality of life and life expectancy for African Americans,” said Stallings, who lost her grandmother to a stroke when she was a child.

She said her grandmother’s death “now feeds [my] passion for educating the community about the dangers of uncontrolled blood pressure.”

Stallings is studying the factors that influence self-management behaviors in minority populations with hypertension and heart failure. One way to reach underserved populations, she said, is through the phone.

What makes its app unique is its use of “theory-based, culturally relevant, individualized, evidence-based self-management interventions to improve hypertension disparities.”

She will employ an IT developer and a hypertension advisory panel comprised of nurses, physicians, nutritionists, community leaders, and African-Americans living with hypertension.

Like Stallings, Chonda Nwamu, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Ameren Corporation, has also dealt with heart disease in her family.

She is serving as the American Heart Association [AHA] President of the Go Red For Women campaign

“I have a history of heart disease in my family, so my involvement with Go Red for Women is personal,” said Nwamu.

“Beyond my personal connection, I am motivated by how the American Heart Association is actively working to address issues of health equity and access to health care, specifically among underserved communities and women of color” .

The annual campaign raises awareness of heart disease, the leading cause of death among women. It will culminate with the St. Louis Go Red for Women Luncheon on April 26, 2023.

Since its inception in 2004, Go Red for Women has had “a profound impact on women’s health,” according to Jennifer Jaeger, executive director of the American Heart Association St. Louis.

“As the trusted, passionate and relevant force to end heart disease and stroke through the Go Red for Women movement, the American Heart Association remains steadfast and committed to meeting the comprehensive health needs of women, in every stage of life.

Jaeger added that his organization is “thrilled that Chonda’s experience, conviction and passion will help drive Go Red in St. Louis.”

“Together, we know we will have a positive impact on the lives of the women in our community and the families that depend on them,” she said.

The AHA raises funds from local and national Go Red for Women activities to support awareness, research, education, and community programs that benefit women.

According to the AHA, only 55% of women know that heart disease is the leading cause of death and less than half know what are considered healthy levels for cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol.

Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services illustrate the importance of the Stallings investigation and the Go Red For Women campaign

  • African Americans are 30% more likely to die of heart disease than non-Hispanic whites.

  • Although African-American adults are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure, they are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to have their blood pressure under control.

  • African-American women are nearly 60% more likely to have high blood pressure, compared to non-Hispanic white women.


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