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Ask Deborah: Addressing Heart Disease Ask Deborah: Addressing Heart Disease
October 24, 2011

Deborah Patterson knows health ministry. As the executive director of Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries and author of Health Ministries: A Primer for Clergy and Congregations, she works daily with parish nurses, pastors, and health professionals. In this feature, she answers your most pressing or perplexing questions on health ministry. Are you hitting a roadblock with a program in your church? Are you wondering where to start with health ministry? Do you feel like you need a new idea on a specific topic? Ask Deborah!

QUESTION: I know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Is there any way that a congregation can help address this issue?

ANSWER: When I was in seminary, I was taught to preach both the scandal and the good news of the Gospel—to be both prophetic and pastoral. So we need to hear and tell the figures like those shared by Louann Rondorf-Klym, RN, MS, a parish nurse in Wilsonville, Oregon, who recently presented on this topic at the Parish Nurse Network of Washington County, near Portland. She shared that one in four women die of cardiovascular disease, twice as many as are diagnosed with breast cancer (not that this is a competition, but the figure is startling). In addition, nearly two-thirds of women who died suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. One in four men also die of heart disease, although they usually have some symptoms more commonly associated in the public’s eyes with heart disease.

What is the good news? We can do much to prevent heart disease—by keeping hypertension, weight, and cholesterol under control, for starters. We can do much to treat heart disease. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but the support of a faith community can make all the difference in the world in helping people to modify their health behaviors and live longer, healthier lives.

So what is the answer, and what can you do? You might  consider offering a CPR and First Aid Class in your congregation through the American Red Cross. And you might want to consider purchasing an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) for your congregation, and train people to use it.

During an adult education class, or women’s fellowship and men’s fellowship times, you might offer a class on heart health to “jump start” the conversation. The American Heart Association (see website below), has great materials, such as articles on healthy foods under $1, and DVDs such as “Just a Little Heart Attack,” starring Emmy-nominated actress Elizabeth Banks. Health education doesn’t have to be boring or expensive.

Make sure everyone knows their numbers—blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), and cholesterol levels. These are important for everyone, but critical for most post-menopausal women, whose bodies will push up their lipids unless they exercise an hour a day. Hosting a health fair would make good sense to help people get screened and to learn about resources for healthy living. On an ongoing basis, help regarding healthy nutrition, exercise, and controlling chronic conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, will be key.

The IPNRC at the Church Health Center has several posters designed for education about heart health and stroke prevention. These have been created especially for use in congregational settings. And educate yourself!

Here are some great websites with further information on the topic:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

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Deborah Patterson is here for you and your church. To send in a question to Deborah, send an email and write "Ask Deborah" in the subject line. Please include your first name and location.