Healthy Hearts Campaign takes off in Bayview

by Lee Hubbard

Andre Larrimore had a wide smile on his face as he walked the grounds of the Presidio. He was taking part in a wellness walk with a group of about 50 people from the Bayview YMCA as they looked at the gateway and entry point into San Francisco. The Presidio is now a U.S. National Park, but it was once home to a U.S. Army base and is currently home to a national cemetery.

Healthy Hearts San Francisco is a new initiative bringing hope for a healthier future to the people of Bayview Hunters Point.
Healthy Hearts San Francisco is a new initiative bringing hope for a healthier future to the people of Bayview Hunters Point.

As Larrimore walked the mile trail, the 53-year-old Black man marveled at the history of the Presidio, which took a look at the famed Buffalo Soldiers, a battalion of Black soldiers who fought in the Spanish American war and who rode with President Teddy Roosevelt. They were stationed for a time at the Presidio.

He also reflected on his struggles with his health and how he is now happy to be living a vibrant and healthier life today. He didn’t think he would be living much longer at all just two years earlier, after having a work accident at the San Francisco Shipyard.

“I was on a wooden scaffold that was 20 feet up in the air when I slipped and fell and landed on my back and hit my head,” said Larrimore. “The end result was that I had a broken back and had suffered a concussion.”

He was in San Francisco General Hospital for a week and in a back brace for two months. While in the brace, he picked up a lot of extra weight and began to worry about his health.

Andre Larrimore
Andre Larrimore

“I began to realize I had to take better care of my health,” continued Larrimore.

He is now part of the “Healthy Hearts San Francisco” campaign, a federally funded campaign which is designed to promote fitness opportunities for low income San Francisco residents in the African American and Latino communities. Health workers at the various city clinics offer physical activity prescriptions to people to take advantage of fitness classes, dieting and lifestyle changes, which help to promote healthier lifestyles.

Larrimore decided to contact Michael Bennett, the physical activity and nutritional director at the Bayview YMCA, and began to change his lifestyle around.

“I deal with people from multiple backgrounds that are affected by health,” said Bennett.

And dealing with Larrimore was no different for Bennett. Larrimore enrolled in the various programs at the YMCA, began to walk and changed his diet around.

“I walk every day, work out daily, I have lowered my blood pressure and my diabetes is in control,” said Larrimore. “I am living much better as I have changed my diet 90 percent.”

Healthy Hearts San Francisco, a groundbreaking campaign funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mobilizes health care providers to give patients green “physical activity” prescriptions for free programs coordinated around the city. Patients say their lives are changing dramatically.
Healthy Hearts San Francisco, a groundbreaking campaign funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mobilizes health care providers to give patients green “physical activity” prescriptions for free programs coordinated around the city. Patients say their lives are changing dramatically.

Changing his diet and lifestyle will help prolong Larrimore’s life. Nationally, there are more than 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes that take place yearly according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nearly 44 percent of African American men and 48 percent of African American women have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke.

According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Community Health Assessment, in San Francisco, African American men – and women too – have a higher rate of death than other ethnicities when it comes to heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. The Healthy Heart campaign in San Francisco is trying to change this dynamic.

The federally funded grant is intended to educate people about ways to prevent strokes and heart disease. African Americans in San Francisco suffer almost twice the number of stroke related deaths compared to other races and ethnicities.

“This is a pilot project funded for three years,” said Jacqueline McCright, deputy director of Community Health Equity and Promotion at the Department of Public Health. “If it’s proved to be successful, then the city would like it to be replicated throughout San Francisco.”

According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Community Health Assessment, in San Francisco, African American men – and women too – have a higher rate of death than other ethnicities when it comes to heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. The Healthy Heart campaign in San Francisco is trying to change this dynamic.

Charles Burns found out about strokes the hard way, when he had a stroke that altered his life.

“Two years ago, I was driving and on my way home in the Bayview when my vision started getting blurry,” said Burns. “I got home and took a nap and thought I could sleep it off. The next day, I ended up using the bathroom on myself and that’s when I knew something was wrong.”

As part of Healthy Hearts SF, free cooking classes start Oct. 15, 10 a.m. to noon, at the Bayview YMCA. Call 415-822-7728 for more information.
As part of Healthy Hearts SF, free cooking classes start Oct. 15, 10 a.m. to noon, at the Bayview YMCA. Call 415-822-7728 for more information.

He ended up going to St. Luke’s Hospital. That is when he found out he had suffered a mild stroke. After his diagnosis, he was in the hospital for seven days, as he couldn’t walk.

“I had to get myself back together and I was in rehab for six months,” continued Burns.

Burns had his outpatient treatment at Southeast Health Clinic, where he was referred to the Bayview YMCA’s health program and, once in that program, he changed things around. Burns credits the YMCA with “helping bring me back.”

“I joined their programs and began exercising daily with the treadmill, weights, walking and swimming,” said Burns. “I also changed my diet around, cutting back on the beef and sticking with a lot of chicken, fish and vegetables.”

Burns is only 56 years old, with a lot of life left to live. By getting his health together and making healthy lifestyle choices, Burns said he will have the opportunity to be around for a long time.

Bay Area journalist Lee Hubbard can be reached at superle@sbcglobal.net for any questions or comments. Learn more about Healthy Hearts at http://healthyheartssf.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/HealthyHeartsSF.