Matters of the Heart
Imagine walking down the street, going throughout your daily routine, when all of the sudden you feel a rush of pain radiating in your chest. You become short of breath, your vision is blurred, and sharp stings come shooting down your arms. This kind of cardiac episode is an unfortunately common symptom amongst people living with heart failure. It prevents them from taking part in their normal activities, like grocery shopping, walking through the park, or even just driving a car. It can be extremely frustrating, and emotionally exhausting trying to cope with the threat of a spontaneous heart attack. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a leading cause of death worldwide, affecting men and women, of all ages and ethnicities. There currently isn’t a cure, simply medicines and several surgical procedures that can help to ease the discomfort of the disease. But there are many preventative measures that people can take to avoid the development of CHD.
I first became interested in researching heart disease while I was abroad in New Zealand. I had enrolled in a sociology course and our first assignment was to submerge ourselves into the indigenous Maori culture, and I chose to do so by volunteering at a local health clinic. I was shocked at the number of native community members who came into the clinic with coronary heart disease (CHD). It immediately became clear that there was a correlation between this disease and poverty. This observation sparked my interest in cardiology, and I have since been working in the MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute in Long Beach following the trends of CHD in the Los Angeles County. I’ve found that the majority of these patients had blatant common denominators of obesity and substance abuse, both of which are factors regularly seen in poorer populations. This is generally a result of what sociologists termed “constrained choice” referring to the lack of possibilities felt by low-income families. They feel inclined to buy fast food, as it is known to be the cheapest option, and the massive amount of stress that accumulates from financial burden can lead to poor choices of stress management, namely alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking. This cycle of declining health is becoming more and more prominent in poor communities as obesity continues to escalate.
I’d like to take a closer look at the neighborhood immediately surrounding USC and focus on the prevalence of CHD, and how it relates to malnutrition and use of substances. There are so many ways that we as university students can reach out to the community to help advocate for improved health standards. It could start with something as simple as setting up communal activities to promote healthy stress management, like yoga and meditation classes. Decreasing stress can lower cholesterol levels, which would directly decrease a person’s likelihood of developing CHD. These kinds of facts should be made known to people who might not have access to health information. I believe that education is the best way to prevent poor health habits, and it all starts with just a little bit of compassion and motivation to make a difference. I’d like to graduate from USC knowing that I made a positive impact on the community that has been my home for the past four years, wouldn’t you?