May 1, 2003
Vandross, other African Americans at higher risk for stroke
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—When Janice McGee heard R&B legend Luther Vandross had suffered a stroke, she was saddened, but not surprised.
As an African American and director of the stroke program at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, McGee knows all too well how race can affect a person’s chance of suffering the nation’s third leading cause of death.
“African-Americans have about a 60 percent higher risk of stroke than whites and are at a greater risk of death and disability from stroke,” she said.
McGee said one reason for the increased risk is the higher prevalence of high blood pressure and diabetes in the African-American community, two conditions that plagued Vandross.
Vandross, who was scheduled to perform at Jackson’s Jubilee Jam this month, also battled obesity, another factor that made him more vulnerable to stroke. Over the years his weight had seesawed from 180 to 320 pounds.
“According to the American Heart Association, African Americans are more likely than whites to be overweight or obese and less likely to be physically active,” McGee said. “The result is they’re also more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and artherosclerosis—which are all risk factors for stroke.”
While such statistics can be alarming, McGee said the good news is everyone can reduce their risk of stroke via a healthier lifestyle. Her advice is: Don’t smoke. Avoid alcohol. Be physically active. Eat a healthy diet. Get regular checkups and blood pressure screenings. And recognize and control diabetes.
McGee said it’s also important to learn the symptoms of stroke because prompt medical attention is often the key to a successful recovery. Vandross was reportedly alone for hours before being discovered on April 16. Two weeks after the stroke, his condition was described as “critical, but stable” and “minimally responsive neurologically.”
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a clot or broken blood vessel.
- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body.
- Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
- Sudden blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes.
- Sudden severe headache with no apparent cause.
- Sudden dizziness or unsteadiness.
- Sudden falls, especially along with any of the other symptoms.
While stroke is known as a “brain attack,” it can have devastating effects on the entire body, said McGee. “Here at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, we help patients overcome disabilities such as paralysis, cognitive defects and speech problems,” she said.
Vandross, who already has had to cope with pneumonia, likely will face a tough battle ahead. But dramatic comebacks are possible, say stroke survivors like Bill Boyd of the Ross Barnett Reservoir area who spends his spare time encouraging others who have had strokes.
“When I came to Methodist Rehab, I couldn’t move my left side, except for my index finger. And I could barely do that,” said Boyd at a recent meeting of the hospital’s stroke support group.
Doctors weren’t sure Boyd would ever walk again. But today he’s not only walking, he’s maintaining an exercise regimen to ensure he stays in shape. “Your attitude and demeanor will set the tone for this journey,” he told the group. “The folks here can tell you how to get better, but it’s up to you. I encourage you to strive for moments when you are able to do something where your therapists says, ‘Wow.’ I had a couple of those and they were great!”
Doctors and staff at Methodist Rehabilitation Center urge everyone to learn about the warning signs of stroke during May, National Stroke Awareness Month. The Jackson hospital will sponsor two free stroke screenings to promote awareness; 10 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, May 6 at the MetroCenter location of McRae’s; and 10 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, May 7 at the Dogwood Festival Market location of McRae’s. Call 601-364-3451 for more information.