Despite the turmoil of recent months, I am hopeful that 2020 will lead to lasting change —especially when it comes to our health care options and outcomes for communities of color. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the lingering and unjust disparities between racial and ethnic groups. Now, the calls to close that gap have grown louder.
As a Black cardiologist in the Mississippi Delta, I have long been aware of these troubling trends. That is why I have worked tirelessly to save lives — and, literally, limbs — from the devastating impacts of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a circulatory condition that affects nearly 20 million Americans including a disproportionate number of minorities.
If left untreated, PAD can lead to dangerous complications such as lower-limb amputation. Unfortunately, this is too often the case for people of color. Research shows that African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans are two to four times more likely than white Americans to develop PAD and require an amputation as the disease progresses. Despite a tendency for racial minorities to exhibit higher risk factors for PAD including a history of smoking, hypertension and diabetes, too many physicians fail to screen for the disease until it is too late. For some, their condition is only diagnosed once their limb function is so deteriorated, that amputation is the only option.