HAZARD — Heart health in Eastern Kentucky has been an issue addressed many times by many organizations and physicians in the last two decades; however, heart disease rates in this area still double that of the state as a whole.
As part of the college’s Operation Heart community service event, “Hearts for KY,” University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy students and faculty volunteered to spend part of their spring break in Hazard earlier this week offering screenings for cardiac risk factors, such as blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol.
Teia Brandenburg, second year pharmacy student at the UK college of pharmacy and one of the program directors for “Hearts for KY,” said this is the first time the program has come to Eastern Kentucky.
“We’re trying to reach out to new areas so we just picked Hazard for this year,” Brandenburg said. “We’ve been here for three days, and as of right now we’ve screened about 350 patients, so we’ve had a really successful event.”
Operation Heart has been offering these screenings for a few years, Brandenburg said, with the goal of increasing awareness of heart diseases across the state.
“We want to impact patients, screen for cardiovascular diseases, and stuff like that across the entire state. That’s our goal, and we’re trying to get there one community at a time,” she said.
Roy Milwee, cardiovascular administrator at UK, said since heart problems are more prevalent in the eastern part of the state, he and his staff hope to provide another venue for people in the area to be educated and learn if they are at risk.
“The University of Kentucky recognizes the need of cardiovascular services and health screenings throughout Eastern Kentucky,” Milwee said. “Cardiovascular disease rates are higher in these communities in Eastern Kentucky, so these screenings should help create some awareness, create some opportunities for some patients to be treated with some preventative care and help with controlling some of those diseases.”
According to the Kentucky State Data Center, 40.8 percent of adults in Perry County had hypertension, and the number of deaths attributed to heart disease were almost double that of the state as a whole.
Tracy MaCauley, cardiology specialty pharmacist and Operation Heart faculty advisor, said heart problems are an issue across the state.
“Heart disease accounted for 30 percent of all deaths in Kentucky in 2009, ranking us eighth highest in the country. We hope that ‘Hearts for KY’ screening events help teach Kentuckians about prevention, and that we start to see improvement in the heart health of Kentucky,” said MaCauley.
For those patients who do test positive for high blood pressure, sugar levels, or bad cholesterol (LDL), Brandenburg said there are simple steps the students at the screening are suggesting those screened do to improve their health, including reducing salt intake and exercising more.
“We’re not really asking any patients to do anything crazy, not running a marathon or completely wiping out salt. We know that those are difficult lifestyle modifications to make. Really, we’re just asking them to make slight changes,” she explained.
Cynthia Christian was screened on Wednesday at the Perry County Public Library, one of three locations the screenings took place, said she was very glad she came out to be screened because she had not been feeling well lately.
“I think it’s a very good thing, what they’re doing here,” she said. “People need to be aware of things like this.”