What does cardiovascular care have to do with dentistry? Plenty, according to Dr. B. Waine Kong, CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC).
"Our goal is to make cardiovascular disease obsolete, and our inspiration is what is happening in dentistry," Kong said. "Fifty years ago, needing false teeth by age 40 was common and expected. Today, if we follow simple dental practices, we can almost wipe out tooth decay. That's an amazing achievement.
"We want to duplicate these results with cardiovascular disease and stroke. If people follow ABC's Seven Steps to Good Health, and if they do so early in life, death due to heart disease will dramatically decrease," said Kong.
What are ABC's Seven Steps? Be spiritually active, take charge of your blood pressure, control your cholesterol, track your blood sugar, eat smart and enjoy regular exercise, don't smoke, and access better health care and take medication as prescribed. The association stresses prevention, since three out of four deaths from coronary heart disease occur during the first heart attack.
Although most African American middle-aged men and women are more afraid of cancer, AIDS and violence, the reality is that cardiovascular disease is responsible for more deaths in the African American community than all other diseases combined, according to ABC.
"One of the myths about heart disease is that it's unavoidable. People hear about someone having a heart attack while jogging and think it's inevitable," said Kong, who plays tennis and golf regularly. "This is simply not true."
Preemptive measures must be taken, Kong said, starting with receiving culturally competent care. "Only 2 percent
of cardiologists are African American. Seventy-five percent of African American patients get care from non-African American cardiologists. It's our goal to increase the number of African American cardiologists to 13 percent," he pledged.
Kong also is an advocate for community involvement in cardiovascular care. In 1979, he and Dr. Elijah Saunders pioneered the organization of church and barbershop health promotion centers throughout Maryland, with a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The initiative still exists today, and continues to train lay volunteers to take accurate blood pressures and follow up with patients to assure their compliance to medical regimens.
"I try to teach people that health and wealth go hand in hand. If you're sickly and lying around in bed, you're not making money, you're spending it," said Kong, who grew up in Woodlands, St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica. "If you're healthy and want to stay healthy, you have to keep up the habits of a healthy person."