Dynamic Duo Leads Charge against Heart Disease
St. Paul’s Baptist Church chosen for EmPowered to Serve Faith initiative
Heart disease and stroke are the two leading causes of death in the world. Although these killers affect all ethnicities, the African American community is particularly vulnerable. They have the highest incidence of high blood pressure in the world due to many factors including genetics. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, and it can cause permanent damage to the heart before you even notice any symptoms. That’s why it is often referred to as the “silent killer.” Not only is HBP more severe in blacks than whites, but it also develops earlier in life.
The African American church has historically been the cornerstone of the African American community, and Pastors serve as much more than simply spiritual leaders. In some instances, congregants will take to the advice of their Pastor before that of their doctor.
Understanding the critical role and platform that these Pastors have in their communities and churches led to the American Heart Association’s EmPowered to Serve Faith™ (ETSF) based initiative. ETSF is a national strategic initiative partnering with faith based organizations to impact health and improve health outcomes in multicultural communities while also achieving the American Heart Association’s goal of reducing deaths and disabilities caused by cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The American Heart Association chose 17 mega churches across the country to participate as a foundational site for this initiative. St. Paul’s Baptist Church was chosen as one of those sites to strategically work with the American Heart Association to improve the health of their church by building a culture of health starting from the pulpit.
Pastor Dr. Lance D. Watson, Senior Pastor and Chief Dreamer of St. Paul’s Baptist Church, has a vision for a congregation with a renewed focus on their physical temple. Pastor Watson employed two of his foot soldiers, Kim Ketter and Shaun Rivers, identical twin sisters and nurses, to lead the charge. As nurses, both Kim and Shaun are dedicated to improving the health of their church family; however, their passion comes from a very personal place.
In May 2009, at the age of 40, Kim began feeling fatigued and tired at work. An ER nurse, she wasn’t incredibly alarmed until she suddenly became ill at work with chest pain and shortness of breath while climbing stairs. Kim met with her doctor who referred her to a cardiologist for a stress test. However, Kim, nor her doctor, thought there would be any serious findings. Kim arrived at the cardiologist and as the technician began administering her stress test, she couldn’t complete it. As the technician went to get the cardiologist, Kim was in shock. “As a nurse of over 20 years, I know what that heart disease looks like, and that’s not what I look like,” said Kim.
Kim’s diagnosis was cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Kim did not have high blood pressure, wasn’t overweight and generally ate a healthy diet so she knew this must be genetic. One week later, at Kim’s urging, her identical twin sister Shaun went to the doctor and received devastating news. She too was experiencing heart failure and her numbers were nearly identical to that of her sister.
Kim and Shaun both take several medications daily that they have coined their “keep Kim and Shaun alive pills”. They also closely monitor their sodium intake. This is important for heart health because when there’s extra sodium in the bloodstream, it pulls water into the blood vessels, increasing the total volume of blood inside. With more blood flowing through, blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the buildup of gunky plaque that can block blood flow. The added pressure also tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body.
Kim and Shaun use their testimony to save the lives of others, especially their church family. They urge everyone to put on their red clothes and join them for a Go Red Sunday event at St. Paul’s on Feb. 22nd to learn more about preventing heart disease and stroke.
If you are interested in learning more about the American Heart Association’s EmPowered to Serve Faith program or hosting a Go Red event at your church, please contact Dionne.Henderson@heart.org