Personal Stories of High Blood Pressure Control

Millions of people just like you across the country and in your own community are diagnosed with high blood pressure every day. Here are just a few of the stories of remarkable individuals who are now in control of the disease by measuring their blood pressure, monitoring for changes, and maintaining healthy numbers through lifestyle changes and/or medication.

Lionel Hollins

Lionel HollinsSitting in the stands at a basketball game is enough to make your blood pressure skyrocket, between the stress of victory and the alcohol available at concession stands. Now imagine what playing – or coaching – in the same stadium must do.

For Lionel Hollins, head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, a high blood pressure diagnosis from a team doctor at age 27 was enough to make him rethink

his health. As an NBA point guard for 10 years with 5 different teams, a lack of physical activity or unhealthy eating wasn’t the culprit. Instead, Lionel’s high blood pressure was attributed to uncontrollable risk factors, including family history. His grandmother, sister, and oldest son all have the disease.

Lionel has successfully managed his blood pressure for the last 30 years, keeping it in a healthy range with the use of medication and annual visits with his healthcare team.

Lionel Hollins EventHe’s also using his popularity in Memphis, Tennessee (he previously coached the Memphis Grizzlies for six seasons) to educate men about the importance of blood pressure control. In June 2014, Lionel kicked off a new blood pressure awareness campaign, 140/90: Living Life Under Pressure an initiative of Healthy Shelby.  Baptist Memorial Health Care and Baptist Medical Group participated in the event by providing screenings and a physician for the event’s “Ask the Doctor” panel discussion. The event also provided an opportunity to promote the Measure Up/Pressure Down® campaign.  At the event (see right), Lionel Hollins shared his story with attendees and encouraged them to measure, monitor, and maintain a healthy blood pressure through lifestyle changes and medication adherence.

“Young African American men in particular, but all men in general should know exactly what it is and what they’re dealing with, how it affects their body and how it causes strokes and heart attacks, affects the kidneys as well,” Lionel told FOX 13.

See media coverage from the 140/90: Living Life Under Pressure event at the following links:

Claire D’Andrea

Claire D’AndreaWe recently interviewed Claire D’Andrea to share her high blood pressure experience. Here’s her story.

This Q&A was a collaboration between Measure Up/Pressure Down® and two partner organizations, HealthyWomen and WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.

MU/PD: How did you find out that you had high blood pressure?

Claire: My high blood pressure diagnosis came at a time in my life when I was very stressed. My husband's company had closed a few months earlier and he lost his job. We decided to locate to San Diego with our three children. My husband moved to California a year before we did, so I was juggling work as a nurse, caring for my son and two daughters, and taking care of responsibilities around the house, like cooking, cleaning or shuttling the kids to school and extracurricular activities.

When I was 42, I was taking my daughter to ice skating practice when I started seeing kaleidoscope-like stars in my vision. My blood pressure at the doctor that day was 210/120, compared to a healthy blood pressure of 120/80. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and worked with my provider to make healthy lifestyle changes and take medications as prescribed.

MU/PD: Did your high blood pressure lead to other health concerns?

Claire: About 6 months after my kids and I moved to California to join my husband, I was walking our dog when I felt an unbearable pain between my shoulder blades. An appointment with my primary care provider resulted in a normal EKG and referral to a cardiologist. There, I took a stress test that only lasted for three minutes of walking on the treadmill—I needed nitro and oxygen to recover. Three days later, I went to the hospital to have a coronary angiogram to have a stent put in my heart artery to restore blood flow through my narrow or blocked arteries. My hypertension was my only risk factor for my heart disease at the time.

MU/PD: How has your health changed in recent years?

Claire: Since the high blood pressure diagnosis and my coronary artery stent, I've gotten in much better control of my health thanks to focusing on my risk factors. Learning how to deal with emotion and stress was essential to improving my health. How did I do this? I became a certified healing touch practitioner, teach others how to manage their stress, practice yoga regularly to improve both my mind and body, regularly mediate and write in a journal.

I also help other women who have high blood pressure, heart disease and other cardiovascular events by leading a WomenHeart Support Group in my community, which I have done for 10 years. I give public talks for WomenHeart about heart disease and hand out literature and Red Bags of Courage at health events to educate other women and to teach them to learn to help themselves.

Rolanda Perkins

Rolanda PerkinsWe recently interviewed Rolanda Perkins to share her high blood pressure experience. Here’s her story.

This Q&A was a collaboration between Measure Up/Pressure Down® and two partner organizations, HealthyWomen and WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.

MU/PD: How did you find out that you had high blood pressure?

Rolanda: In 2005, I had a heart attack that was partly caused by high blood pressure. Prior to the heart attack, I didn’t even know I had the disease, despite having many of the risk factors.

MU/PD: Nearly 70 percent of people who have a heart attack also have high blood pressure. What was that experience like?

Rolanda: It was a very scary experience. Leading up to my heart attack, I had been under a lot of stress working the third shift and planning a surprise birthday party for my sister. I had a headache for a few days that I thought was a migraine and attributed it to this stress. I even took migraine medications to see if that would help. Looking back, I know that my body was trying to tell me something.

The day after the surprise party, we had a cookout with friends and family. While I was cleaning up and mopping afterward, I felt a very sharp pain in my chest. I ignored that pain, but it woke me up around 3:30 a.m. and I was rushed to the emergency room.

Once I was in the emergency room, I didn’t have to wait after explaining my symptoms to the triage nurse. I was rushed to the back for treatment and was then told that I was having a heart attack. A surgeon performed an angioplasty, which means that a thin tube with a tiny balloon on the end was threaded through a blood vessel near my heart and inflated to widen the artery and restore blood flow to my heart and body. When I was released from the hospital, part of the diagnosis was high blood pressure.

MU/PD: Did you have any risk factors for high blood pressure or a heart attack?

Rolanda: The stress in my life was a big component. We also have a family history of high blood pressure—my parents, brother and sister all have it. My lifestyle was also a problem. I didn’t really pay attention to the amount of sodium in the foods that I ate, so I often consumed more than I should have.

MU/PD: How did you change these risk factors to get in better control of your blood pressure?

Rolanda: There are some risk factors—like race, age, gender and family history—that I can’t control. But I knew that I could fully control my lifestyle, especially my diet and physical activity.

For example, before my heart attack, I’d have a can of beefaroni with garlic bread and salad with Italian dressing for dinner. I didn’t realize how much sodium that food had in it—just one serving of beefaroni has nearly half of your daily sodium!

With that knowledge, I began eating smaller portions of healthier food, walked on a community trail and even got a dog to keep me active. I’m now in control of my blood pressure thanks to these healthy lifestyle changes, as well as taking blood pressure medication every day.

MU/PD: Congratulations on being in control of your blood pressure! How did you learn about lifestyle changes?

Rolanda: After my heart attack and high blood pressure diagnosis, I felt alone. I didn’t know many people who went through what I just experienced with my health. So I began volunteering with the American Heart Association (AHA), first at health fairs and then as a national spokesperson for AHA’s Go Red for Women campaign. From there, I learned about WomenHeart, which is a national organization for women with heart disease. I now co-lead a WomenHeart support group in Nashville, Tennessee, and serve as a WomenHeart Champion to spread the message to other women who were recently diagnosed with heart disease or had cardiovascular events, like heart attacks. Now, every fourth Sunday I host a local radio show focusing on women’s issues, including women’s health.

MU/PD:  What advice do you have for others who may have just been diagnosed with high blood pressure?

Rolanda: It’s extremely important for people to know about the sodium in their food. I didn’t realize, until after my heart attack that too much sodium was a major contributing factor. I encourage you to clean out the pantry and cupboards by reading the nutrition label and ingredients list. If you’re trying to cut back on sodium, refill a mini salt shaker every day with the maximum amount of salt, rather than using a table-sized one. And, learn how to season your food by using spices and herbs instead of salt.

Nellie A. Wosu

Nellie A. WosuAs a Capitol Hill patient advocate and a spokesperson for the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, Minister Nellie A. Wosu is walking the walk, regarding her health.

Like many others, Nellie’s involvement with heart disease and similar conditions was inspired by her own health challenges.

In her early 20s, she began having frequent headaches. At first, she associated them with her high-pressure job that required her to constantly monitor a computer screen. Soon, though, Nellie learned that the headaches stemmed from high blood pressure.

Nellie was especially at risk of high blood pressure due to her race and family history. High blood pressure is more common and more severe in African American adults than in Caucasian or Hispanic American adults.

She had to be extra careful of her blood pressure because of other health issues, including diabetes.

After the initial diagnosis of high blood pressure, Nellie struggled with remembering to take her medication every day, exactly as prescribed by her health care provider and pharmacist.

“The most difficult change I faced was becoming accustomed to taking medication every day,” she said. “You must be compliant and you have to pay attention to what you are doing. You can’t skip your medicine for two days, then take a pill and expect it to be effective.”

Nellie quickly learned to take her medication as instructed and she also made sure that she lived a healthy lifestyle. Her family ate lots of fruits and vegetables which led to a healthy diet without too much salt (sodium), which can contribute to high blood pressure. Through regular physical activity, like walking, and by making small changes to her diet, Nellie lost 16 pounds.

She also learned to better manage stress and put herself first.

“As women, we constantly put others first and we have to stop doing that. We have to learn to take care of ourselves, and we must believe that we are worth it,” said Nellie.

Her efforts are paying off! Nellie’s last blood pressure reading was 111/77, which falls in the healthy range.

She is quick to point out that “high blood pressure doesn’t have to be a death sentence. If you’re diagnosed, you have to make a decision about how you want to live the rest of your life. Do you want to thrive or just survive? I want to thrive.”

Based on her personal experiences, Nellie wrote The Keeper of Me, a book that outlines her journey after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

Provided by Million Hearts®

GailIn this video from our partner Million Hearts®, 55-year-old Gail recounts her personal experience with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). She shares how she manages her risks for CVD by knowing her family history and making small, simple changes to maintain good heart health.

Betty Baldwin
Provided by American Heart Association

Betty BaldwinIn this video from our partner American Heart Association (AHA), Betty Baldwin shares her blood pressure management story. Betty's blood pressure rose after a hip fracture halted her daily walks and physical activity. She worked with the AHA's Check. Change. Control. community-based high blood pressure management program to return to a healthy blood pressure.