Partners in Life, Love, and Health

David and Phyllis are such a charming couple. They wanted to get on the same page about their health and decided to join the IAWH SMBP hypertension control community as a couple. They have lived in Maryland for the past 16 years, and are quite the artistic pair! Phyllis is an avid quilter, David plays the bass guitar and composes music, and together they enjoy collecting artwork. David and Phyllis are working hard to eat healthy and remind each other to do daily blood pressure checks. They’d like to remind others that when it comes to improving your health, keep at it and don’t get discouraged if you lose track along the way. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating couple and their health journey.


Q: Tell us about yourself. For example, where were you born, what you do for a living, your hobbies/interests/activities, how long have you lived where you live now? If you are not native to where you currently live, what brought you there?


A (David): I was born in London, England. I was raised there until I was 14 when I emigrated to America with my father and two older sisters. My two elder brothers and sister stayed in England. We arrived in NYC and eventually settled in Binghamton, NY. I went to HS there and then on to College. My main hobby, interest and activity is music. I love playing the bass guitar and writing, composing and recording. I wish I loved working out as much as I do playing music. I would look fantastic! I've always had an artistic interest, but I believe Phyllis has really brought the love of graphic art out. Through her, I've gone to many museums and art shows and/or fairs. We've begun collecting art pieces and it is really enjoyable to have art on display in our house. We have lived in Maryland since 2006. Marriott brought us here. We really enjoy the 4 seasons and mild weather in Maryland. Prior to Maryland, we lived in Michigan (Detroit Metro) for about 10 years, before that we were in the Chicagoland Area (NW Indiana) for about 2-3 years. We met in Connecticut, where Phyllis is from.


A (Phyllis): I was born in Connecticut, my grandparents moved there from the south looking for work. We have lived in Maryland for about 15 years. David & I moved to Montgomery County, also for work. Until injury, I loved spin classes (bike). Now I enjoy walking. My maternal grandmother (who I never met) was a quilter in rural Georgia. One day, by chance, I saw an exhibit of African American quilters and I was hooked! I bought a sewing machine and began learning piecing and quilting. I am a member of Uhuru quilting guild in Prince Georges county. I love fabric and most every type of quilting and fiber art. I Would love to learn how to sew clothing.

I just took the medication without really looking deeply into what I could do otherwise. I think people are going along in life keeping with some foods that we were raised on.

Q: When were you first diagnosed with hypertension? Many people immediately vow to make changes in their lives and to their lifestyles to avoid taking medication. Some people are shocked and had no idea that they had high blood pressure. What was your reaction?


A (David): Interestingly, I noticed my blood pressure was elevated whenever I went to my doctor and was over 230lb. If my weight was down during my visit, my blood pressure would be normal. Because of this, I attributed high blood pressure to weight gain. I snapped my Achilles tendon playing soccer in my 30's. Unable to exercise, which was my purpose for playing, I wound up gaining 20lb. I went from 220 to 240lbs. I dropped about 10-12lbs. when I became mobile, but it kept pushing toward the 230lb. mark. Eventually, my visits to my Dr were all showing signs of elevated blood pressure. It was my Urologist that explained to me that I needed to take the pill (medication to manage and control high blood pressure). I said I would lose the weight and not need it, and that I didn't want to take a pill that I didn't need. His response: Yes, you should not take a pill that you don't need, but you should take a pill that you do need. He went on to explain how High blood pressure works. He described the mechanics of the heart, the veins and arteries becoming weak due to the constant pressure. This made sense for me because it sounded like the work I do, which is engineering. So I started taking the meds.


A (Phyllis): First diagnosed after the birth of our 1st child. I took it in stride (accepted it) because I knew so many older folks who had "pressure".


Q: Were you surprised by your diagnosis of hypertension? Do you have a family history of hypertension or other chronic conditions? Do you know anyone else diagnosed with hypertension?


A (David): I was initially surprised but I'd had bouts of weight increase, going over 230lbs. usually resulted in "Elevated" BP. Up until this program I'd never really referred to it as hypertension. Additionally, these things didn't happen to me until I was well into my forties. I remember Phyllis pointing this out to me when she noted that I just get up, washup, don't put on glasses, eat breakfast and walk out of the house without any concern for medication. I'd never thought about it. I remember going to work and informally asking my friends about medications and discovered that many were on medication and that many of those were a lot younger than me. My term of endearment for High Blood Pressure, Diabetes and High Cholesterol is "The Black Package". My family had these issues and yes, I know many more people now that have it. Especially since I'm now a club member. I gotta get outta this club.


A (Phyllis): No not shocked or surprised, so many people seemed to have it, it almost seemed like something that happens to people automatically when they get older. My parents & grandparents were not overweight or obese. My mother did not cook with pork & rarely fried. Both parents took blood pressure medications for hypertension & high cholesterol.

I have never been a group oriented person, but this IAWH experience has been wonderful. Through the IAWH initial online introduction meeting, I met a participant who lives nearby, we have started walking together weekly (she's a wonderful person) the time flies by!

Q: What steps did you initially take (with or without your health provider) to get your hypertension under control? Were these methods at all successful? Often health providers provide basic information on health conditions. Where did and do you look for information to learn more and stay current on hypertension control?


A (David): I tried exercising. I'm not that good at it. I tried dieting. I've tried abstaining from meat. All of these things have brought success, but not sustainability. Everything works, but being able to maintain it for life is difficult. I once met with a dietician through my doctor. I requested this. It was not a very good meeting and I can't recall anything from it. I believe you have to find someone who is relatable and that you feel comfortable with. I haven't gone down that road since. I have found and learned that most doctors do not have or receive nutrition education during Med School. I believe it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 hours throughout Medical School. That said, I don't expect much from doctors regarding nutrition. I don't have a resource for staying current on hypertension. Unfortunately, my approach to managing hypertension is to view most things within this society with an eye of skepticism due to the fact that everything is for sale in the USA, including the health and welfare of the citizenry. For me, this means that no one else is looking out for my/our health, but me/us.


A (Phyllis): I just took the medication without really looking deeply into what I could do otherwise. I think people are going along in life keeping with some foods that we were raised on. Also the quality of food. I am looking at quality, reading ingredients. When we can get there, we buy produce from Bro. Yahbro.


Q: How has your lifestyle changed since ? (What was your diet before diagnosis vs. after? Has your physical activity changed? How has your awareness and knowledge about your health changed?)


A (David): My diet did not change once I found out that I had high blood pressure. I tried cutting back but; as I've noted above, nothing was sustainable to me. My diet and actions have begun changing in recent years. I attribute this to ageing.


A (Phyllis): I have tried many things over the years, with mixed results. Because David & I are "on the same page" now, armed with more information, more of our plate is vegetables with less "bad carbs". Dinnertime is earlier with fewer after dinner snacks. Yes, I am recording the miles I walk now. Slowly increasing the distance I walk. Having a walking buddy helps.

Both of us being on the same page about being serious on keeping up with our blood pressure numbers.

Q: How did you learn about IAWH’s SMBP Program? What made you interested in participating? What have you gained from this program?


A (David): I was listening to WPFW. I knew it was a program spearheaded and potentially just for women, but I signed up anyway.


A (Phyllis): My husband was listening to Dr Watkin's program on WPFW. I suggested he sign up for it, we decided to join the program together! It has been wonderful working together toward SUSTAINED health benefit. We remind each other to check blood pressure daily. We are more mindful of what we consume and when we consume it. This makes exercise flow more easily, just feels better when you eat better. I have never been a group oriented person, but this IAWH experience has been wonderful. Through the IAWH initial online introduction meeting, I met a participant who lives nearby, we have started walking together weekly (she's a wonderful person) the time flies by! I spoke to another knowledgeable participant about food, growing flowers and vegetables and marathons. I can't wait to meet everyone in person at the upcoming luncheon.


Q: How and why did you decide to do this program together?


A (David): It just made sense for us to do it together. We know we are both on a journey and we discuss our challenges with each other. Weight issues, diet, what we would like to see and goals.


A (Phyllis): We have both been up and down the scale, trying this and trying that. But long term changes were elusive. Both of us being on the same page about being serious on keeping up with our blood pressure numbers.


Q: Do you hold each other accountable for SMBP and/or other things about your health? Do you give each other reminders? How? Give some specific examples.


A (David): We do ask each other whether we have taken readings this day or that. However, strict accountability is not what we do. As for reminders; usually we will see one or the other taking their medication or using the monitor and that is a good reminder.


A (Phyllis): The only thing I can think of as far as accountability with us is we are much more aware of and discuss salt content in prepackaged foods. We check in with each other, remind each other. Just the sound of the monitor in the next room...


Q: How are you different in your approaches to managing high blood pressure?


A (David): It now has moved up to the front part of my mind. When I get a reading, I think about what I was doing before or what has been going on within the last few days. I am aware of how some medications can increase blood pressure and have either cut back to wean myself off or reduced the intake and watch the results. I would say this is like self-modulating the medication in-lieu of waiting to go to the doctor to have him/her tell you to cut back. I do not increase dosage ever.


A (Phyllis): I have embraced that this is a lifelong commitment to myself. It is not a quick and fast thing anymore. Quick and fast in the past has never lasted. David has been exploring new food venues near work. This has really helped us make better choices on the weekend if we eat out.


Q: What have you gained from participating in this SMBP program? (What knowledge has been validated? What is something new that you learned or gained?


A (David): I would say that realizing that what goes into your body truly is having an effect on your biology. Involvement with the program has made that very real for me. Likewise, the phrase; Let your Food be your Medicine and your Medicine be your Food takes on a greater meaning. It's not just knowing that this is important for the bio-mechanics, it is also important for the mind. How I think and reason are also controlled by food and medicine. We should all think about Garbage In, Garbage Out.


A (Phyllis): Dr. Watkins and Dr. Yolandra were very, very good. Dr. Yolandra was much more engaging. She talked the straight talk looking us right in our eyes. I liked that she tackled the idea that patients think the doctors and the pharm companies are working together when in fact it is the pharm and insurance companies planning our futures. I'm sorry I missed the walking meditation. We really enjoyed Tai chi with Mr. Fogan. I think learning to be a good swimmer would be transforming for most black women who don't swim or who aren't strong swimmers.

...the phrase; Let your Food be your Medicine and your Medicine be your Food takes on a greater meaning. It's not just knowing that this is important for the bio-mechanics, it is also important for the mind. How I think and reason are also controlled by food and medicine. We should all think about Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Q: Where would you like to be healthwise in five years?


A (David): Off of medications and eating holistically. Fantastic Health, Fitness and Flexibility. Mentlally and Physically Stronger than I've ever been.


A (Phyllis): I am looking forward to living with much less inflammation in my body. While we don't consume a lot of meat, I'd like to reduce it even further. I foresee blood pressure meds being a thing of the past because of the effort, reflection and education we are undergoing for longterm lifestyle changes. Also a more reasonable BMI.


Q: What advice would you give to others who may be considering, just beginning, restarting, or continuing on a health improvement or a hypertension control journey?


A (David): If you are beginning, then try it. You may discover that it is easy for you. If you find it isn't easy, understand that you can learn to do anything and eventually get good at it. If you are restarting, look at your past attempts and see how you might try to avoid whatever it was that knocked you off of your goals before starting again, then watch for whatever that is. (BTW, it will change form and come at you from another direction - Watch out for that). If you are continuing the journey, look at new ways to enrich your walk. See yourself as who you want to be or become, but know who that person is when you get there, so that you don't create an illusion that you can never realize.


A (Phyllis): Keep stepping, even if you "mess up", keep on. Seek others who are interested in a healthy lifestyle, that do so with a smile. It takes a long time to develop negative habits, know that changing them will take time. If you don't always have time to cook, make sure you get to know the healthy food spots BEFORE #youaresohungryyoujuststopatthedrivethru.

 

Executive Directors Writer/Editor

Janine E. Payne, MPH Melissa Kluczynski, MS

Cheryl J. Thompson, M.S.P.H.










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