In 2005, Todd Bell, 46, a former NFL football player and Buckeye great, died of a heart attack. Since then, Daphne Bell has turned her husband’s death into a crusade of sorts to educate people about the link between genetics and heart disease.
“Knowing your family history is a big component for me,” Daphne says. “It’s what you don’t know that can cost you your life.”
Her work revolves largely around her foundation, Keeping TABS on Your Heart, which raises funds to screen people for heart disease. (TABS is the acronym for Todd Anthony Bell.) As part of her campaign, Daphne goes to area churches and other venues and talks about how hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol put people at risk for heart disease.
Bell left home the morning of March 16, 2005, and suffered a heart attack in his car 10 minutes later. The former athlete who worked out regularly and ate well did not display any obvious symptoms or signs of heart problems, Daphne recalls. Just a few weeks earlier, Bell had learned his cholesterol was a bit elevated. Daphne found a prescription for a heart scan in his briefcase. Had her husband known his family history, Daphne believes, he would have taken action sooner. And that’s the lesson Daphne wants to teach others.
She is currently on a tour for her book, The Pain Didn’t Kill Me. Two Columbus-area radio stations run 60-second spots of her informing listeners about hypertension and other chronic diseases.
Her message has spread. It’s common for men to approach her in the community and tell her they went to the doctor because of what she said.
“It helps me and comforts me because it ensures me that my husband’s dying wasn’t in vain,” she says.
“I encourage wives to take the one hour a year and go to the checkup with their husband,” she adds. “We hear differently than men and process differently than men. If you have a husband or father, go with them so you can hear what the doctor says.”
Putting her health first
Quovardis Lawrence, 41, is keenly aware of how things affect her health — from food to exercise to stress.
“What last year taught me is that I definitely have to put myself first so I can be all things to everyone else, like my amazing husband and beautiful children and employees I work with,” says Lawrence, a senior technical design director at Abercrombie and Fitch.
Spurring her priority shift was a diagnosis of Raynaud’s disease, a condition that limits blood circulation. She had not been sleeping well, got headaches and often had trouble breathing. Her doctor, Laxmi Mehta, MD, FACC, director of Ohio State’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Clinic, prescribed Lawrence medication to manage the symptoms. She also informed Lawrence she was obese.
“She said you won’t make it until the end of the year if you keep going the way you’re going,” Lawrence recalls.
Today, Lawrence, mother of two, is clearly headed in a different direction. She is a slimmer version of her former self, monitoring her diet carefully and being more physically active.
“I’ve really learned what works for me and I’m better for it,” she says. “I’ve noticed a difference with my skin and my hair and my energy level.”
It wasn’t necessarily easy to change, she says. She grew up on a traditional African-American diet of chitlins, buttered cornbread, collard greens and other high-fat, high-calorie foods.
But earlier this year, her co-workers threw her a 41st birthday potluck. And they knew better than to bring greasy, fatty foods.
“It was the greenest potluck I had ever seen,” a pleased Lawrence says.
Heart of the matter
Spotlight on heart disease in the African-American community
African-Americans should be concerned about heart disease, says Laxmi Mehta, MD, director of Women’s Cardiovascular Health at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Combined, heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death for African-Americans, she notes.
But there’s a lot you can do to prevent heart disease, she says. Lifestyle changes are at the top of the list. These include quitting smoking and being more active — exercising at least 10 minutes a day, five days a week. You also need to reduce the amount of fats, salt and sugar in your diet. Meeting with your physician on a yearly basis for a blood pressure check and periodic screening for high cholesterol are other necessary steps to take.
“It is important for people to be active in their own health care and be informed consumers,” she adds.
Spotlight on snoring and sleep apnea
Some snorers may want to take their noise-making more seriously. They may have obstructive sleep apnea, which puts them at risk for coronary artery disease, hypertension and insulin resistance (or prediabetes), says Minka Schofield, MD, assistant professor of Otolaryngology at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Obstructive sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing or slowed airflow while sleeping.
There’s a link between obesity and obstructive sleep apnea, Dr. Schofield says. Losing weight would be ideal when trying to manage the condition. A sleep study is the best way to determine if you have it. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have sleep apnea.