- By Dana Sparks
An Elusive Illness Leads to Targeting Health Disparities
In the coming months, collaboration between Mayo Clinic and The Links, Incorporated, will include educational outreach, critical research, and programs to prepare and encourage minorities to choose medical and health careers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American women:
- Are more likely to die of breast cancer than other women
- Have cancers that grow faster and are harder to treat, and are less likely to get prompt follow-up care when their mammogram shows something that is not normal
- Are less likely than white women to survive five years after a breast cancer diagnosis
- Are at least 50 percent more likely to die of heart disease or stroke prematurely than white women
Ginger Wilson, a Chicago lawyer and businesswoman, had been experiencing breathing problems — wheezing and shortness of breath — as well as weight loss, inflammation and digestive issues. "After 18 months, I had been diagnosed with asthma, an intestinal bug, an ulcer, rosacea and more," she says. "I received treatment for the individual symptoms, but never one diagnosis for all the symptoms."
One day, while on an outing, Wilson found she couldn't hike more than a few hundred yards. A friend, who was a doctor in training at Mayo Clinic, asked if she'd been checked for carcinoid syndrome, a condition caused by secretions from a slow-growing tumor. Wilson traveled to Mayo Clinic for evaluation, where the diagnosis was confirmed, and she underwent treatment. Seven surgeries later, she is back to being active in her Chicago community and owns the first African-American female legal staffing firm.
Wilson shared her experience with her friends at Mayo and The Links, Incorporated, one of the nation's premier volunteer service organizations of professional African-American women. Conversations occurred, connections were made and pilot projects developed. To date, educational forums have been held with Mayo Clinic physicians and Links chapters in Chicago and Atlanta.
A public service video has been produced, and research findings from a collaborative survey were presented at the National Medical Association and other scientific venues. The message: "Listen to your body. Be proactive with your health."
A memorandum of understanding recently was signed between the two organizations. The joint initiative ranges from raising health awareness in the African-American community to facilitating scientific research, with a special focus on cardiovascular disease, cancer, organ transplantation and obesity. The collaboration stems from one patient's experience.
"Wilson's experience is a microcosm of what we hope will happen from this collaboration," says Monica Parker, M.D., an Emory Health System physician and director of the Health and Human Services facet of The Links, Incorporated. "A strong personal relationship, a sharing of health care information, a level of trust and an optimal outcome based on quality research-based medicine is our hope for everyone with health care needs."
"The potential for this groundbreaking relationship is enormous. Our organizations have mutual goals and the determination and means to make those goals a reality," says Sharonne Hayes, M.D., a Mayo Clinic cardiologist and director of the Mayo Clinic Office of Diversity and Inclusion. "Health care disparities among minority populations should be a concern for everyone in the country. Unfortunately, the quality of medical care can still depend on your race, your gender or your ZIP code."