Doctor fights heart disease among blacks

Monday, July 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Hilton M. Hudson II knows a thing or two about soul food. He knows that when you go home to Mama, the macaroni and cheese, sweet potato pie and fried chicken will be waiting.

And so will the pressure for you to indulge. And why not? This is the food you grew up on, the stuff that has brought you comfort and warm memories.

But as a cardiac surgeon, Dr. Hudson knows something else: Traditional soul food is loaded with fat and cholesterol. A steady diet of such food leads to coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is the No. 1 killer of African-Americans. And blacks with the disease are more likely to die than whites.

"I think soul food kills black people," he says simply. And as a doctor, Dr. Hudson isn't in the business of losing patients. He wants to help them get better or prevent heart disease in the first place.

As a black man, Dr. Hudson understands the cultural connections between diet and health and he wants to help others make those connections as well.

That is why he has co-authored The Heart of the Matter: The African American's Guide to Heart Disease, Heart Treatment and Heart Wellness (Hilton Publishing, $24.95). The book is peopled with folks most African-

Americans will recognize: a minister busy fighting to save his church, an older woman cooking Sunday dinner, a wife and mother climbing the corporate ladder. Each suffers from heart disease.

Their stories subtly weave together familiar elements of black life - stress caused by racial discrimination, the lack of fresh produce in an inner-city grocery store and even the role of religion in taking care of one's health.

"The thing we wanted to touch on," he says, "is that racism does play a part, and that there is a disparity in black and white health. We know that in hospitals, both in the North and in the South, black women are less likely to get diagnostic and therapeutic procedures compared to their white counterparts and men.

"You need to know this happens and what to expect and what to ask for," he says.

When patients and their families are informed and take some responsibility over their own health care, physicians tend to be more responsive, Dr. Hudson says.

Throughout the stories, Dr. Hudson, a cardiac surgeon in Rockford, Ill., walks readers through specific elements of the disease and its treatments. The book also offers ways to improve health and speed recovery. There's even a section with low-fat soul food recipes.

In one vignette, a young resident returns to her inner-city neighborhood to visit her mother. The doctor is struck by the disparity of the neighborhood compared to her more affluent one. She doesn't see any joggers, there's a plethora of fast-food chains and liquor stores, and the local grocery store has gray-looking fish and rotting produce.

The story, says Dr. Hudson, is based on his own experience.

"Grocery stores in the inner cities don't get the freshest produce, meat or fish. You are forced to eat that way unless you can afford a car, a cab ride or a bus [to another store]. It's almost built into the culture that you think this is the way you are supposed to eat," he says.

"We kind of tolerate this as black people. It's OK to have Taco Bell and Burger King, but let's demand more for our neighborhoods," he says.

The book is the first of several that Dr. Hudson plans to publish at Hilton Publishing, a company he started to specialize in health books aimed at African-Americans. Other topics include cancer, AIDS and books aimed specifically at women and men.

The books are available at local bookstores, including Black Images Book Bazaar in Wynnewood Village. Portions are being turned into pamphlets for black churches nationwide. Pfizer Inc., a pharmaceutical company, has teamed up with the publishing company to allow the book to be given away for free in doctors' offices around the country, Dr. Hudson says.

And while the books are specifically aimed at African-Americans, Dr. Hudson says that he hopes anyone would feel free to read them and find them helpful.

"The truth of the matter is that the majority of my patients are white," he says. "This book is actually good for anybody who wants to slow down heart disease or prevent it."



Here are some of the symptoms of coronary artery disease, according to The Heart of the Matter: An Introduction to Coronary Heart Disease (Hilton Publishing, $24.95).

If you suffer any of the symptoms, the only way to know for sure if you have coronary disease is to get a complete medical workup, advises co-author Hilton Hudson.

* Rapid pounding of the heart
* Shortness of breath
* Pain or pressure in the chest, which may also spread to the arms, back or jaw
* Swelling of the legs
* Nausea and vomiting
* Loss of appetite



Here are some facts about heart disease, according to The Heart of the Matter: An Introduction to Coronary Heart Disease.

The statistics were compiled by the American Heart Association and the American Medical Association.

* One in five males and females have some form of cardiovascular disease.
* More than 2,600 Americans die each day - one death every 33 seconds - of cardiovascular disease.
* This year, 1.5 million people will have heart attacks and 500,000 of them will die.