By Karen Stokes
Community activist, Andre Lee Ellis has experienced the highs and lows of health. He’s learned first-hand the importance of diet, exercise and education to improve health and the consequences of not seeing your doctor.
Ellis now 59-years-old has had mild heart attacks since he was 47.
“I’ve never had a bad one, I always got to the hospital in time,” Ellis said. “It was devastating when I learned that they had to open up my chest, plus put something on my heart. Then I did the research and saw all the successful surgeries that doctors do because I trust my doctors especially at Ascension Columbia-St. Mary’s. I’m great now and I think I’m getting better. I think we should talk to our doctors. My physician, Dr. Ofonime Essien cares. He’s a friend to his patients. He tells it like it is.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention say African Americans ages 18-49 are two times more likely to die from heart disease than whites. African Americans ages 35-64 years are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than whites.
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review there are several factors that contribute to these health disparities, but one problem has been a lack of diversity among physicians. African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only four percent of U.S. doctors and less than seven percent of U.S. medical students.
Initially Ellis went to the doctor because he was tired, was urinating frequently and no matter how much he ate, he was still hungry. He discovered that those were symptoms related to diabetes. That same day Ellis was diagnosed with diabetes, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.
“People with congestive heart failure live for about five years after diagnosis. It’s been 12 for me. God is good,” Ellis said.
Recently, African American director John Singleton died at age 51 after having a stroke. Strokes are often associated with uncontrolled high blood pressure. In an article in Scientific American.com, John Singleton’s family has publicly asked Black men to take better care of themselves by getting their blood pressure checked and treated.
“I think Black men should go to the doctor more, they should get annual physicals because of our diets, because of our DNA,” said Ellis. “Our community needs to be educated and not fear going to the doctor.”
“Life changes include diet. It’s the salt and sugar, we eat. I feel good when I eat a boiled egg for breakfast, a piece of whole grain toast with no butter and I can add a cup of fruit. You have to have a meal plan. I like salmon. Salmon is best for people with diabetes and heart disease,” he said. “We need to watch what we drink, I like alkaline water with lemon, mint leaves and cucumbers.”
Alkaline water restores pH balance by reducing acidity levels in the body. Another life change is exercise. Whether going to the gym or walking, exercise can enhance your health.
“Moving around helps. I need a workout regimen. I think I’ll get a treadmill in the house so I can workout everyday,” Ellis said. “All my life I’ve not been sick then I hit 47, then I’m sick and that’s why I ask all men, have you’ve been checked out. Many say they’ve never been to the doctor, I tell them that’s bad.”
“If you’re 50 years old and you never had a physical, you need a physical. If you’re 40 years old and you never had a physical, you need a physical. If you’re 30 years old and you never had a physical, you need a physical. If you’re 20 years old and you never had a physical, you need a physical,” said Ellis.