Black people have the highest rates of death from heart disease. Could more Black cardiologists help?

Around 60% of Black Americans have heart disease, but only around 3% of cardiologists are Black. Could more Black cardiologists improve the health of Black patients?

For Elston Harris, heart attacks seem to be a generational curse.

Several men from his father’s side of the family — including Harris’ uncles — died from heart attacks. Harris, who is 59 and a former college basketball player, almost experienced a similar fate after his own heart attack in 2017. The only signs he was having a heart attack that he noticed were “small” symptoms of back pain and trapped gas.

For Harris, the curse may have been a blessing in disguise: While being treated at Advocate Trinity Hospital, a medical center in southeast Chicago, he was referred to Dr. Marlon Everett, a cardiologist who gave him a “game plan” to follow. This included putting God first, eating healthy and concentrating on his checkups. But aside from Everett’s expertise, Harris said he felt comfortable because Everett looked like him.

“When you are African American or Black, you’re more comfortable interacting with someone who knows, ‘OK, he might have grew up here, or he might eat this, or I heard them do that,’” said Harris, who lives in Chicago. “So, you’re a lot more comfortable with people who walk in similar footsteps.”

Elston Harris, 59, was referred to a Black cardiologist after a heart attack in 2017.Courtesy Elston HarrisAround 60% of Black American adults have heart disease, and heart disease death rates are highest among Black Americans compared to other racial and ethnic groups, according to the American Heart Association.

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Updated: 1 month ago
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