Going Outside the Four Walls

By Sharon Tregaskis

Olajide Williams, MD, was a neurology resident at Columbia when an annual physical turned his world upside down. “I had just turned 30 years old and I was diagnosed with high blood pressure,” says the Nigerian-born neurologist. “I was fit, healthy. My only risk factor was a family history and being black.”

Now a P&S associate professor of neurology, director of acute stroke services at NewYork-Presbyterian, and co-director of the Center for Stroke Disparities Solutions in New York, Dr. Williams was lucky. His diagnosis came early, he could afford the medical care he needed, and his professional training had given him the health literacy he needed to keep his blood pressure in check: medical compliance, diet changes, exercise, and stress management. Hypertension, which afflicts nearly one-third of all Americans and is an underlying factor in more than 70 percent of strokes, is a poster child of this country’s racial health disparities. Americans of Hispanic and African descent are more likely to develop hypertension, less likely to be diagnosed early (when treatment is most effective), and less likely to respond fully to the drugs that can manage the condition.

While on rounds at Harlem Hospital Center to evaluate and treat patients who had suffered strokes, Dr. Williams bore daily witness to hypertension’s ravages and its disproportionate insults in Harlem. Among people aged 35 to 45, the incidence of stroke is four times higher in blacks than in whites; of all races, African-Americans have the highest mortality rate from stroke.  [read more]