||Dr. Icilma Fergus with her patient Joann Tention
When Dr. Icilma Fergus, a cardiologist at Harlem Hospital, was called to examine Joann Tention, a patient in the intensive care unit, Tention was eight months pregnant and in critical condition, suffering from heart failure. Tention, then 40, had high blood pressure, asthma and large fibroids in her abdomen that were adding to the pressure on her body.
"Everybody gets very concerned when two lives are threatened," Dr. Fergus said. "It was a really tough situation."
February is Healthy Heart Month, and throughout HHC doctors and patients are talking about ways to reduce the risk of heart disease. Like Joann Tention, more than one in three American adults have one or more types of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, heart failure, coronary heart disease and stroke, according to December 2009 figures from the American Heart Association. In New York City, heart disease was the leading cause of death in 2006.
More than 25 percent of all deaths in the U.S. are caused by heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. In communities of color, the prevalence of heart disease is even higher. The overall death rate from cardiovascular disease in the U.S. in 2006 was 263 deaths per 100,000 population, according to AHA. For black males it was a whopping 423 per 100,000 and for black females it was 298 per 100,000.
"Heart disease and stroke are the number 1 and number 3 killers in the United States, respectively," Dr. Fergus said. "Statistics show that African Americans have worse outcomes from cardiovascular disease than their Caucasian counterparts and are less aware of their cardiovascular risk factors. African Americans are less likely to receive preventive care and treatment." Dr. Fergus has been a leader in organizing the "Saving Hearts of Harlem Symposium" to be held at Harlem Hospital on Feb. 20.
Heart disease and death can be significantly reduced for everyone through good medical care and by controlling risk factors. "This includes maintaining a healthy diet, becoming more physically active, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol," Dr. Fergus said. Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor that should be eliminated.
A team of doctors including Dr. Fergus developed a medical plan to keep Joann Tention in treatment in the hospital for several weeks, then perform a C-section to deliver the baby, a healthy girl named Jasmine Coleman. She will turn 2 this March.
Once the baby was born and Tention was stabilized, she was transferred to Bellevue Hospital where doctors removed the huge tumor from her uterus. Once classified as a patient with the most serious Class 4 heart condition, Joann Tention is now a Class 1. She continues to take medication and monitor her diet. She works as the manager of a clothing store and enjoys being a wife to husband John Coleman and mother to Jasmine.
Joann Tention, who was once told she would not be able to have children, praised Dr. Fergus and the other medical providers who helped her deliver a healthy baby and get heart healthy herself. "I was able to learn what good care is," Tention said.