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Opinion: A Love Letter to my Heart

posted Feb 15, 2019, 6:19 AM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Feb 15, 2019, 6:33 AM ]
Going on 25 years ago, I was in elementary school. I was one of those little round black girls who wore her hair in plaits, or pig tails. Deep down, I'm still one of those.

I remember a tightness in my chest, on two or three occasions. Always around lunch time or in the afternoon, it was a dilapidation pain. At some point, I remember laying down across the table.

I don't really remember any thing being done about it. I was brought home and I got a lecture about eating too much pork. That was about it.

It wouldn't be until some 25 years later that I finally would get a check in on my heart.

Modifiable and Non-Modifiable Factors of Heart Health


Original title: "Matters of the Heart" by "denn"  / Denise Chan [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There are modifiable and non-modifiable factors to maintain heart health. Factors that you cannot modify, is family history, age and sex. Heart disease tends to be more common in men and postmenopausal women. Modifiable factors include reducing hypertension, managing diabetes, not smoking, increasing physical activity, and managing cholesterol. 
New research has shown that daily aspirin is not suggested for people who have no history of heart problems. 

Abyssinia's Go Red for Heart Health Screening, February 2019

When I moved to New York 6 years ago my father "suggested", he instructed me, to go to Abyssinia Baptist Church. My father, as a civil rights activist, told me that Rev. Butts was also an activist and that the church would take care of me. This was coming from a man who worked with churches frequently and, as they say about making sausage, its often better when you don't know how they are made. My father was a faithful man but he had a healthy amount of cynicism when it came to organized religion. For him to tell me to go to a church meant he had investigated the church thoroughly: not just for his daughter but just because that’s the sort of person he was. Thus far, he's instruction has been correct.

I've participated in a number of events at the church. I seek to eventually move back to Harlem and be near the church since there are so many opportunities to do things for others. Most recently, one of the events that has had the most impact on me was the Community Health Screening.  They had free tests as well as tests that would be covered by health insurance, including:
  •  Abdominal and Thyroid
  •  Cancer Gene Test
  •  Echocardiogram
  •  Allergy Testing
  • Cholesterol/Glucose
  •  Blood Pressure
  •  HIV Consultation
  • BMI (Body Mass Index)
I gave them my insurance card, filled out the paper work, and then hurried off to service. It was a spectacular service that spoke to issues of the heart and it would really set the stage for my experience.

The Heart: A Place where Willpower and Emotions Meet

I had taken most of my other tests. It was finally time for the echocardiogram. The technician had asked me to turn around so she could scan the other side of my chest. Now facing the monitor, I could see what she was seeing. For a few moments I got to watch my heart work. I could see the little valves opening and closing. I could hear my heart beat. I watched for awhile, fascinated. 

That light bulb shaped object is what is currently keeping me alive. Its been with me since I started my journey in New York, since my adventures across Asia, and even before that. We have dealt with the loss of our home, the imprisonment of our father, the death of our grandmother. It made me really aware of grandmother's heart, hers failed while she was sleeping peacefully. It made me aware of my father's heart, which we believe he had a heart attack while getting ready for work one morning. Regretfully, we would never know exactly what happened because my father was wrongfully embalmed before we could get an autopsy. 

During the service, the sermon was given by Rev. Bachus. In addition to serving the community, Dr. Butts has been employing and training many young ministers for quite some time. Rev Bachus discussed Psalm 51: a prayer of King David, who asks God to create a new heart for him. This was after the king's mistakes eventually caused him to premeditatively murder a man. 

Heart Health: Modifiable and Non-Modifiable Factors

There are a lot of things in this world that corrupts us, causes us pain, and has us seeking comfort in the most destructive ways. Researchers have found that mental conditions like anxiety and depression have physical impacts on our hearts. Just from what I could remember of my father, he may have been severely depressed. After losing our home my mother and father moved to our ancestral land, a house built by my great-grandparents that my father saved for us. We are proud of keeping this property in the family, but is located in a severely neglected community. Due to the break down of many community institutions, churches, meeting halls, and unions, my parents lived in a very isolated place. This was a lot of the reasons why I moved away and my father sometimes lamented about how isolated he felt. My mother feels the same way.

After my father's passing, this caused me to talk to a therapist, to regularly check in with my doctor, and stay involved with the community as well as keep in contact with my friends. In addition to the physical things that we can do for our hearts, improving our diets, exercising regularly, managing alcohol and not smoking; managing our mental wellness is additionally important. 

There are some things I cannot change. I have heart problems on my father's side: both him and his mother. They both passed in their early 70s. However, I can improve my chances by being a good steward and by being aware. 

I will be getting the results of all of my tests in the next few weeks in the mail. As for the other tests, I did well with the breath tests I believe because I practice yoga nightly. However, I have been eating a lot more sugary foods as of late to deal with fatigue and stress. I'm curious about the other results. Watching my heart work for a few moments was what really made it personal for me. Before I ever receive any of the numbers, I will always remember my light bulb sized companion and what I can do to help keep them going.