Monday, May 22, 2017


African-Americans age 65 and older are dying at a slower rate than whites of the same age, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Blacks, age 65 and older, began living longer than whites starting in 1999. Specifically, the African-American death rate (for those 65 and older) dropped to 25 percent within the past 17 years, according to the new CDC report. Black life expectancy rose from age 71 in 1999 to 75.5 by 2013.

By comparison, white life expectancy increased from age 77 to 79. Blacks, in plain terms, now have a life expectancy of 75.6 years, compared to 79 years for whites. This means the gap is still there; but it shrunk from a six-year difference in 1999 to a less than four-year difference in 2013, according to the new study.

While the new CDC report did not aim to explain why African-Americans age 65 and older are living longer than whites of the same age, the New Journal and Guide aimed to understand the slight increase, so it posed several questions to Nat Warren, age 71.

Several lifestyle choices come sharply into focus as Warren, age 71, describes his lifestyle. He is well-connected to his family and friends. And he stays busy. Warren, who retired as the head tennis coach at Norfolk State University continues to work as a volunteer with the team and he has earned many honors including a 2014 award at Cape Henry Racquet Club. 2015.

Here is how Warren spends a typical week.  Monday. Warren, age 71, walks out to his home office in his garage and works at home raising funds as a volunteer for the tennis program at his alma mater, Norfolk State University.

Next, he cleans his pool, cuts grass, and putters around his yard for about three hours.

On Tuesday, he and his wife, Lizzie, babysit their two, four-year-old grandchildren who are twins.  From 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Warren plays tennis at the Cavalier Yacht Club. Then he and his wife go out to dinner.

“On Wednesday, I play golf with three friends from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.,” Warren said. “On Thursday, my pastor and I mentor kids at Bible Study for four hours. On Friday, I have breakfast at a restaurant with about 12 men I’ve known for 20-30 years.”

Well, you get the picture. Warren not only brings the new CDC report sharply into focus.  He also shines a light on his own longevity. Blacks who were susceptible to chronic disease, according to the new CDC report, had already died before age 65 from chronic diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Blacks who live to be 65 are older are comparatively healthier than their white peers.

Timothy J. Cunningham, lead author of the CDC report, attributed the lower death rate among elderly African-Americans, to weathering, a term that first emerged in 2011. It means weathering life’s storms produces a specific type of endurance that increases longevity.

“I attribute my longevity to taking care of my health, enjoying my family and working with others,” said Warren, who grew up in Southampton, Va., has been married for 48 years to his high school sweetheart, Lizzie. They have two adult daughters, Charrise and Chessie. For about three decades, Warren would load his family in the car and make the nearly three-hour, round trip commute each Sunday to St. Luke Christian Church in Southampton, where he grew up.

“Working with my family is the most important thing to me,” Warren said. “And I attribute the success I have had in my life to staying connected to those who helped me when I was young. That is why I work with youth and try to help them become what they want to become.”

Warren continued, “I also try to set an example for young folks and inspire them. I help the tennis coach at Norfolk State throughout the tennis season. I help with the tennis program from February until the end of April. Just last week, both of Norfolk State’s tennis teams finished second in the MEAC Championship-North, at Old Dominion University.”

He has his own theories about why some African-Americans are living longer. “Because they are beginning to take care of their health,” Warren said. “Once, we tended not to get health checkups. We would not go to the doctor. We would find a way to avoid going to the doctor’s office. Often, we didn’t have insurance. But I think a lot of things are different now.”

Advancing another theory, Warren pointed to how he has tried to practice values he learned as a child. “I was brought up in the church with my parents,“ he said. „They taught me to live my life so that I would treat others the way I wanted to be treated.“

Advancing a third theory, he said, “The church taught me the difference between right and wrong. The church taught me how to be a productive person. I have always tried to live by the principles I learned in church. I grew up believing God was always there for me and I still believe God is good all the time. That is my favorite saying.”

Some of Warren’s theories surface in The 2011 Longevity Project, an 80-year study conducted at the University of California, Riverside.  The study began in 1921 and examined more than 1,500 bright children who were about 10 years old when they were first studied in 1921. Researchers used death certificates, evaluated interviews, and analyzed tens of thousands of pages of information to draw conclusions.

The point is the landmark Longevity Project used hard data. Researchers followed the children through their lives, collecting information that included family histories and relationships, teacher and parent ratings of personality, hobbies, pet ownership, job success, education levels, military service and numerous other details

“We came to a new understanding about happiness and health,” said Leslie R. Martin, a psychology professor at La Sierra University in Riverside, who published the Longevity Project with Howard S. Friedman in 2011.

“One of the findings that really astounds people, including us, is that the Longevity Project participants who were the most cheerful and had the best sense of humor as kids lived shorter lives, on average, than those who were less cheerful and joking,” Martin said in a 2011 interview in the Medical Press.

“It was the most prudent and persistent individuals who stayed healthiest and lived the longest.”

Yes. You could flip through the dictionary and notice that the word prudent means you have common sense, good judgment, shrewdness, and wisdom.  Or you can look at Warren’s lifestyle.

News reports show that access to health care has improved for African-Americans in the past decade including advanced treatment for heart disease, various cancers and HIV. And, a 2016 study in the New England Journal of Medical Care found that racial disparities in hospitals narrowed or disappeared between 2005 and 2010.

The new CDC report may have pinpointed why African-Americans are living longer because it noted that there has not only been a decline in heart disease deaths. But there has also been a decline in Alzheimer’s disease, aortic aneurysm, high blood pressure and complications related to pregnancy.

Blacks who live past age 65 may now expect to live longer than whites of the same age, the report noted. And Warren’s well-connected, generous, outgoing and active lifestyle may explain why.  

Moreover, steadily married men – those who remained in long-term marriages – were likely to live to age 70 and beyond, the Longevity Project noted. “Fewer than one-third of divorced men were likely to live to 70; and men who never married outlived those who remarried and significantly outlived those who divorced – but they did not live as long as married men,” according to the Longevity Project.

Warren nodded in agreement, as he listened to the details in The Longevity Project. “The impact that being married has on my health is it helps me do those things that sometimes I forget like going to get a physical checkup, eating properly and getting the right amount of rest. My wife prepares the proper foods for me. She urges me rest. She has been instrumental in helping me to maintain my health and stabilize my life.”

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor

Kenita Jackson proudly wears the white coat she earned at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
A newly trained surgical assistant, she helps surgeons in the operating rooms at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital.

“It’s amazing to be doing this work. I absolutely love it!” Jackson said. “The surgeons I work with now trust me to close on my own.”

She got her start at Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk Campus.

Jackson grew up in Calvert Square and saw her share of gun violence, poverty and drug use in her own apartment. She lost seven friends to shootings during her childhood.

She lived with her mother and grandmother, but life spiraled downward when, at age 6, Jackson lost her grandmother. She and her sister, often hungry, resorted to “borrowing” food from neighbors, sometimes three times a day.

“When you grow up in that much dysfunction, school can be a real challenge,” Jackson said. “It’s hard to focus.”

In high school, Jackson’s grades suffered. She skimmed textbooks to pass exams, but never learned how to learn.

After having a baby at 17, Jackson knew she needed to turn her life around. She tried enrolling at Norfolk State University but was denied because of grades.

Jackson came to TCC for a second chance.

“When I started at TCC, I knew so little,” she said. “I took the placement tests and had to start at the bottom and work my way up.”

Jackson found the support she needed at the college.

“There’s no way I’d be where I am today without the people of TCC,” she said. “They taught me how to think critically and basically held my hand until I could walk on my own.”

Jackson began studying criminal justice but changed course when a STEM advocate, Susan Fincke, gave her a career assessment test to gauge her interests. Jackson scored high in science and medicine. Fincke encouraged her to change course and believed in her before she believed in herself.

“I always thought I wasn’t smart enough for medicine. But she said that I could do it,” Jackson said. “I had tutors and professors that helped.”

Jackson graduated from TCC with an Associate of Science in Social Sciences and transferred to Old Dominion University to earn a bachelor’s in biology.

When she first applied for the surgical assisting program at EVMS, she was wait listed. A year later, she received a full scholarship.

“It was the most amazing moment,” she said. “I hadn’t even applied for scholarships and here I was in the financial aid office being offered a full ride.”

Jackson graduated from EVMS with a master’s in surgical assisting and went right to work.

“One minute I’m cleaning hotel rooms for $9 an hour, the next I’m earning three times that much working in operating rooms,” she said.

Jackson is the mother of two boys, ages 7 and 18. She recently moved them out of public housing. “We have a townhouse in a good area with decent schools,” she said. “It’s still a struggle, but so worth it.”

Jackson and her sons attend Calvary Revival Chapel. “A lot of people tell me I did so well. But I know God opened doors that I never could have imagined,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard, and I know that if I could do it, others can, too.” 

Jackson encourages girls in similar circumstances to push for graduation and dream big. “If you reach for the moon and only grab a star, then so be it. At least you got that star.”

The National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, defines a cerebral aneurysm as, “A weak or thin spot on a blood vessel in the brain that balloons out and fills with blood.” A brain aneurysm is a very serious thing indeed. Having two, a “double aneurysm,” is an exceptionally tragic event. Yet, that’s what happened to a once very busy, in demand seamstress and tailor, one who lives to this day. She shared her story with me recently. Many would call it a miracle.

In 2009, Paulette and Wilson Washington had just moved into their new home. One weekend night after having left her shop on Virginia Beach Boulevard, Norfolk, she was having a few drinks at home with a friend. Later, after her friend left, Paulette decided to hang some bedroom curtains she had made. She recalled that, suddenly, she felt a bit tipsy and thought she’d lie across the bed. For reasons that escaped her, she decided to open and read her Bible.

“That’s the last thing I remember,” she said. She didn’t even remember having breakfast the next morning, Sunday. Something quite tragic was already silently beginning to take its toll. She and Wilson hadn’t a clue. Yet, 24 hours later, something didn’t set quite right in Wilson’s spirit. He had gone to work, but told his supervisor that he needed to go back home. Good thing too. Paulette would learn months later that Wilson returned home only to find her lying on the bedroom floor, her eyes blood red.

Frantic, he called Paulette’s brother and sister-in-law for help. She was conscious, but wasn’t making much sense. They tried talking to her, but only got mumbled, gibberish responses. Urgently, they drove her to a local hospital, but it was ill-equipped to help, so hospital staff summoned an ambulance to rush her to a partner facility.

“From that day to this,” Paulette said, “I don’t remember anything that happened.

”Within 10 minutes of her arrival at the second hospital, a doctor and a pastor emerged from the emergency room treatment area and approached Wilson. The pastor told him he should go home and get her things in order. The doctor advised that, if she lived, she would never be the same again. But there was also a miracle worker in the treatment room that day, unseen by everyone, but He held Paulette in His hands.

“They said I was in intensive care for 5 days,” Paulette said. “When I came out of there, I went into a regular room. I don’t remember anything about my hospital stay other than what Wilson and other people told me.” She would, however, later remember that the miracle worker, “God” she said, paid her daily visits.

“All the days that I was in the hospital God came and got me every day. He came and got me and showed me my life. People would ask me how did He look, but I wouldn’t look up. I heard his voice. The voice I heard was so tremendously powerful, yet so calm and so firm, almost chastising, but sweet. I just listened. He showed me my life.

”Paulette’s mother Dicie had passed 4 years earlier. “I remember asking Him if could I see my mother,” she said. “He let me see her …” She paused, reflecting deeply. “My mother jumped into my spirit … into my soul. God had to pull her out. He said, ‘It’s not Paulette’s time.’

”Paulette had a cousin who often visited at the hospital, sitting bedside, reading the Bible to her. “We talked several months after I got out of the hospital. She said, ‘One time, I looked at you and you had turned into Aunt Dicie!’ I figure that was the time when my Momma jumped into me. She said it scared her to death.”

Though she was hospitalized for 17 days, Paulette can only recall her visits with God. Her antics, in her altered state of mind, proved memorable for Wilson and the hospital staff. She was quite a handful, especially in her determination to go home.

“I would say, ‘I’m going home!’ and would get out of the bed and walk down the hall, with the IV pole, to the elevator,” she said. “But I couldn’t get onto the elevator with the IV and they would just let me sit there, until I got mad and would go back to my room.” She laughed heartily and added, “I would always try to escape from that hospital.”

Yet, the staff and Wilson were prepared and deployed a bit of trickery to calm her nerves. Every day, Paulette would ask when was she going to be discharged. They had decided to always tell her that it would be the following Monday. When she would ask about what the current day was, she was always told that it was Tuesday. The plan worked pretty well, until 17 days later, a Monday. A new nurse was assigned to her care. As was her routine, Paulette asked, “What day is it?” Without hesitation, the nurse told her Monday. Ecstatic, Paulette exclaimed, “Oh! I go home today!” The perplexed nurse said, “Let me check,” only to return a few moments later with the bad news.

“They said I went off,” Paulette said, chuckling wildly. “I was cussing everybody out and I said I’m going home! So they called Wilson. He came over and some way or the other got them to release me. He said, ‘I think if I take her home I can bring her memory back.’

“I’d remember Wilson when I first got home, but then I would wake up in the morning and ask him, ‘Who are you and what are you doing in here?’ I said I didn’t remember and he would have to sit me down, hold my hand and say, ‘Your name is Paulette and I’m your husband.’ It would take him about 15 minutes to bring me back and he had to do that every day for about 4 days. That day, I got up and said, ‘How are you doing this morning?’ I had remembered!”

Paulette said that God continued to visit her in her sleep once she returned home. “God came to me again and took me to my business. He said, ‘Paulette I need you to close your business.’ And I refused God. I said, ‘I can’t do that! My family depends upon me.’ That Tuesday morning, He came again and got me. All of a sudden I saw light and I knew I was in my business. He said, ‘I need you to close your business.’ He said, ‘It’s not your time, but if you close the business, I promise I’ll take care of you.’ I remember doing my hands like this.” She threw her hands up in exultation. “I felt life again,” she said. “So, I closed the business.”

She added, “I never found out yet why He wanted me to close the shop. Nobody knows this, but I had so many trials and tribulations. Anything I start, I want to finish. Before I went into the hospital, I used to be crying out in front of my shop at night. I would be just saying, ‘Lord, Lord, Lord, do this … Lord, Lord, Lord, do that.’ One night, I felt something go, bump-bump. He said, ‘I hear you! You don’t have to keep asking me.’”

In reflection, Paulette added, “From the day I left the hospital, something changed. All I do every morning or in the night is say, ‘Thank you, God! Thank you, God for everything!’ Since I have been saying that, I do not have to ask for anything.”

By Terrance Afer-Anderson
Cultural Arts Columnist

A growing stack of reports on health-care disparities may explain why a patient with a toothache sat in the parking lot waiting to see a dentist the day that Golden Hill wiggled her brand-new key into the lock at The Community Free Clinic of Newport News Clinic in 2000.

The point is Hill was familiar with the growing stack of reports. So after she retired in 2010 as executive vice president at Riverside Regional Hospital, she launched the clinic. Whether it is a 2011 Columbia University report that shows African-Americans (even those with some dental insurance) receive poorer dental care than whites. Or a 2008 Northwestern University report that shows African-Americans are more likely to have an amputation than whites because of a lack of access to primary or specialty care. Or a University of Alabama at Birmingham study that shows African-Americans had 22,384 more strokes than whites in 2014. These reports not only explain why the theme for National Minority Health Month is “Bridging Health Equities across Communities.”

These reports also help to explain why traffic has steadily increased at the clinic Hill opened seven years ago in a low-income community in Newport News. “I always say opening this clinic was like throwing a pebble in a pond,” Hill said in a recent interview from her office.

“We are making a difference,” she said. “The first day we opened I saw our first patient sitting in the parking lot. We didn’t have a dentist so Dr. McKinley Price, our mayor, volunteered to come in along with Dr. Jasper Watts and several other local dentists.”

Hill continued, “We started with a staff of one doctor and two nurse practitioners. Our staff increased the second year to 7-10. Now we have 14 on staff (paid and volunteer). We have 135 volunteers. Moving forward, we have enrolled more than 3,000 patients and our visits have been as high as 15,000. We have been able to reduce suffering in this community because of a network we established with the health-care community. Before we opened, people traveled to the emergency room or the health department which is located about 20 minutes away.”

Reflecting on the early period, Hill laughed and described it, “I saw this vacant building on 25th Street. And I said, ‘I need that building. I am going to open a clinic.’ They donated that building to us. Riverside Hospital has been our biggest supporter. Then Dr. McKinley Price, our mayor who is also a dentist, called within a few months of opening our doors and said the city agreed to give the clinic a $50,000 grant. It was that quick. And people started to come.”

This means Hill has built her own bridge from a problem to a solution brick-by-brick by recruiting volunteers. The clinic is located at 727 25th St., in Newport News. Patients typically earn $12,000 or less a year.

“Let me tell you why this clinic is so important,” Hill said. “People here were going to the hospital for emergency care at a rate that was double that in the city and in the state – and dying at a rate that was more than double.”

Hill added, “They were going because of strokes, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure. Now that we are here they can walk in and see that their blood pressure is high. We are able to provide medical-care; medications from our on-site pharmacy, nutrition-support, and education that help our patients reduce their blood pressure levels. “We work hard to keep people out of the emergency room.”

The point is that an increasing number of reports highlight grim disparities in minority health-care; yet, Hill retired as a hospital administrator and took it a step farther. She built the clinic brick-by-brick by recruiting those who wanted to help. Specifically she began speaking in churches, talking to public officials, and asking educators and health care providers to become volunteers. The clinic has also participated in many health fairs and provided various types of screenings including oral screenings.

“Congressman Bobby Scott came over when we kicked off the dental clinic,” Hill said, listing some local links. “Dr. Price sponsors a golf tournament and uses the proceeds for the clinic as well as for the city of Newport News.”

Hill pointed to other critical connections including an on-site pharmacy that has received more than $1 million in donated medications. It has experienced a 57 percent increase in delivering prescriptions since 2013. Pharmacy schools at Hampton University and Virginia Commonwealth University also provide support.

Hill pointed to other vital links and connections. “The members of my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta come in to help. The Links have helped. We’ve had members of Omega Psi Phi help us at health fairs. We found that people just stepped up to help us. My seventh grade teacher even sent me a check to help and she also volunteered.

My church Carver Memorial Presbyterian has been a substantial and continual donor, as well as other churches including First Baptist Church of Denbigh.”

The bridge that Hill is building in Newport News does not rival the world’s greatest bridge, which was built in Kobe, Japan in 1998. The point is the world’s greatest bridge was built in Kobe after 168 people were killed in 1955 in two ferries that sank in a storm in the dangerous Akashi Strait in Japan.

This means human suffering disturbed people so much after the tragedy destroyed lives in Kobe that people wanted to act after 168 people suffered and died in two ferry accidents. People wanted to do something. In other words, widespread concern and raw gut feelings pushed Japanese officials to begin building the world’s tallest bridge in 1988. It took 10 years to finish the Akashi Strait Bridge. Today that bridge is 2.4 miles long, has six lanes, and four emergency lanes.

In a sense, a growing stack of largely dismal reports on minority health-care pushed Hill, a retired hospital administrator, to build a great bridge. Aiming to eliminate suffering, Hill bridged a low-income neighborhood in Newport News, to influential volunteers, concerned citizens, and assorted health-care services.


But other retired health care workers are also building bridges in Hampton Roads including Dr. Mack Bonner. Most recently Bonner was the keynote speaker at the recent Men’s Health Symposium in Portsmouth. Bonner relocated to Hampton Roads after he retired in August 2014 as the regional medical director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. During his medical career, which has included a medical residency at Harlem Hospital in New York, Bonner has seen the impact of suffering with his own two eyes.

“It was my experience at Harlem Hospital that brought me face-to-face with the ravages of sickness and death that befell us as a people, particularly Black men,” said Bonner who earned his medical degree at Temple University, completed his residency in internal medicine at Harlem Hospital Center in New York City, and soon became medical director of Harlem Hospital Center. He has held other positions including deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Health and later, medical director of the Maryland Department of Corrections.

“I was determined to devote the rest of my career and beyond to working with others to improve the health and lives of Black men and their families,” Bonner said in a recent email. “I have been called to serve the underserved, the poorly served and the never-served.”

Although Bonner is retired, he continues to build bridges in Hampton Roads. For example, he has helped to conduct screening in senior citizen centers, and in barber shops and beauty shops.

“I am on the leadership board of the local American Cancer Society,” he added. “Here the emphasis has been getting the message out to minority men and women about cervical, breast, colon and prostate cancer screening and prevention.”

Bonner is also the president of the local American Diabetes Association and chairs its community outreach committee. “In this role, I have been involved in community education, screening and referrals for diabetes care.”

Bonner is also a board member at the Hampton Roads Community Health Center, as well as a volunteer.  “Every Friday, I go with HRCHC staff to the Food Bank in Norfolk to educate, screen and enroll persons in care,” he said. “I am on the Health Committee of Virginia Organizing. Here our efforts have been focused upon getting Medicaid expansion in Virginia.”

Pinpointing why he continues to help build bridges even though he is a retired medical doctor, Bonner said, “We build bridges because it is both morally right and politically right.”

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor

More than 150 guests attended the International Black Women’s Congress 14th Annual Organ Donation Awareness Gala at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott on April 8, 2017. The event sponsor was Donate Life Virginia.

The evening started with a VIP reception, followed by delicious dinner. The guests enjoyed an evening of music by Dee Polite and the Phenomenal Sounds Band. Zakiyyah Zai’mah from New Jersey served as Mistress of Ceremonies, and Elaine Harold Robinson from New Jersey represented the Board of Directors and gave On the Occasion. Rev. John Harrison, Associate Pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Norfolk gave the Invocation. As a pancreas recipient, Rev. Harrison knows that organ donation works.

The speaker for the evening was Dr. Clive O. Callender, M.D., the first African-American to perform an organ transplant in the United States. His life story was uplifting and showed what one can accomplish with a belief in self and God on your side. Dr. Callender told the audience that his undergraduate grades were not outstanding, but he was admitted to medical school nonetheless, and four years later graduated the top student in his class.

The highlight of the evening was the Matters of the Heart Awards. Each recipient had a testimony, which moved many of the guests to tears. Their stories let us know why we as African-Americans need to sign the donor card. They were:

1. Tonya Bagwell-Bailey from the Eastern Shore of Virginia is a 23 year kidney recipient and LifeNet volunteer.
2. Victoria Brown is the aunt of twelve year old William Vernon Brown, who organs were donated after he drowned in what he thought was a frozen pond. The family for fifteen years has been volunteering for LifeNet.
3. Rev. Dr. William K. Dixon, with 20 years of experience in the health care field, came in from Columbus, Ohio. He is a native of Norfolk and a staff chaplain at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center Ross Heart Hospital.
4. Rodney Dortch is a living organ donor. On May 13, 2014, he donated a kidney to his wife Mary Roisten Dortch. They are Deacon and Deaconess is their church.
5. Romero “Rome” Johnson, suffered from heart disease for almost 35 years before he received a heart transplant in 2015. He and his wife visit and minister to heart patients in the Tidewater area.
6. Rev. Dr. Yvonne Wright-Dunn is the Director of Cardiac operations and Clinical Research at Sentara Heart Hospital and Pastor of the Birthing Place Worship Center in Portsmouth. She has blended scientific with the spiritual as she delivers services to those in need.

Dr. La Francis Rodgers-Rose, Ph.D., a 14 year heart transplant recipient and founder of IBWC, thanked everyone for supporting the event. She said when you are planning for such an occasion, there is always uncertainty until it actually occurs.

Dr. Rodgers-Rose was overwhelmed by the support the organization received and look forward to continuing to bring awareness of the need for organ donation in the African-American community. The evening ended with the guests dancing to the music of Dee Polite and the Phenomenal Sounds Band.

If you would like IBWC to come to your organization or church, please call (757) 625-0500.

When Terrance Afer-Anderson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010, he could have retreated from the world or crawled into a shell; instead he decided to build a bridge.

But Afer-Anderson is one of many in Hampton Roads who has helped to build bridges that connect underserved minority communities to quality healthcare. The point is this. As the nation observes National Minority Health Month in April by zeroing in on the theme: “Bridging Health Equities Across Communities,” try to envision the feat that Afer-Anderson actually performed after his doctor handed him a prostate cancer diagnosis seven years ago.

“My head more than my feet led me to the doctor’s office because the knowledge in my head told me to seek routine health screening,” said Afer-Anderson, who worked for the Norfolk Health Department for about two decades and retired in 2016. “This means I knew I needed to do my routine checkups and I did them,” said Afer-Anderson who developed the habit of going to the doctor for routine visits because he had asthma as a child.

While a 2016 Kaiser report showed that about 20 percent (17.2 percent) of all minorities are uninsured, Afer-Anderson has comprehensive health insurance. But at the time of his diagnosis, he also had a physician who always told him his health was fine. Changing physicians Afer-Anderson underwent several PSA tests and a rectal exam that showed he had prostate cancer.

In plain terms, the PSA test is a blood test that screens for prostate cancer. The test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. The PSA test detects a protein in cancerous and noncancerous tissues in the prostate, which is a small gland located below the bladder.

“During my biopsy for prostate cancer, everything was done pretty quickly within a couple of weeks,” Afer-Anderson said. “The diagnosis came back fairly quickly. No one knew what was going on with me until I received the diagnosis. Later, I told my support group what was going on in a regular meeting. When I told the group at a regular meeting about my prostate cancer diagnosis, Charlie Hill, a prostate cancer survivor embraced me physically and spiritually at the meeting. He became my big brother and mentor.”

In other words, Afer-Anderson did not resemble some minorities who are seeking health care. Afer-Anderson had health insurance that paid for routine health tests and ongoing care. He also had a habit of monitoring his health. More to the point, he did not suffer unduly like many minorities with critical health problems because the real problem, according to the groundbreaking 1985 Heckler report is that many minorities do not benefit “fully or equitably from the fruits of science or from those systems responsible for translating and using health science technology.”

In other words, the Heckler report said many minorities with serious health problems suffer unduly and disproportionately because many minority patients do not receive ongoing, high-end health care. But Afer-Anderson crossed the bridge that saved his life because he was able to pay for and receive ongoing, high-end treatment. During treatment, his highest PSA level dropped from a high of about 7.8 to a low of 0.01.

“That was not a high PSA level,” Afer-Anderson said of his earliest PSA level. “And this is the benefit of early detection. You get to choose your own treatment method. I chose my own method. And I haven’t had any of the side effects that men have with prostate cancer because I have been very blessed.” Specifically, the side effects of prostate cancer are frequent urination, lower back pain, and blood in urine.”

Afer-Anderson chose a treatment method called Brachytherapy. This means radioactive seeds or sources are placed in or near the tumor itself. This method delivers a high radiation dose to the tumor while reducing the amount of exposure from radiation to nearby healthy tissues. The term “brachy” is Greek for short distance.

“Because mine was not aggressive, I opted for something called Brachy therapy,” Afer-Anderson explained. “I did that because of my busy schedule and I only had to do it one time. I did this for six or seven months. It was done on an outpatient basis in the hospital and only took only about four hours. I went back to work two days later.”

Soon, he was cured. More important, he continues to reach back to help others. Specifically, he was the chair of the public relations and marketing committee for the 2008-2011 African-American Men’s Health Forums. They were sponsored by the American Cancer Society (while he was still working at the health department and also undergoing treatment). Later, he joined the Prostate Health Education Network and moderated discussions on prostate education or served as master of ceremonies at consortium conferences in Washington, D.C.

In 2012, he launched a public health initiative called Illuminating Good Health Coalition. Co-sponsored by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities which provided the keynote speaker, the event attracted about 70 people. More important, 360 health screenings were done. Most recently, in August 2016 he received a $20,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to increase prostate cancer awareness. He is completing projects that will help close the disparity gap in minority neighborhoods.


“The day that Charlie Hill hugged me in front of our support group, he told me he was drafting me into the army of prostate survivors,” Afer-Anderson said. “And I believed him.”
Afer-Anderson added, “Let me tell you how this works. That event I staged in 2012 – some men found their PSA levels were high. They were referred to physicians. I know of at least one incident where one man was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He said that if had not come to the event for free-screening he might have never known.

That event proved to be a bridge not just for that one man but for four to five other men who came and found they had elevated PSA levels.”

Afer-Anderson has built numerous bridges in minority communities because he believes in getting routine checkups. He also believes in linking and connecting others to health care. In a sense, his beliefs have helped more minorities face and also weather storms similar to those many workers encountered while building the legendary Golden Gate Bridge. Although the landmark bridge opened to the public in May 1937 and more than two billion vehicles have crossed it.

Bridge-building is not for the faint of heart because those who erected the expansive Golden Gate Bridge ran into frequent storms and encountered widespread opposition including skepticism from cost-wary city officials, skittish environmentalists and ferry operators who believed the new bridge would ruin their profits. Seasoned engineers, meanwhile, predicted that it was not only technically impossible to build the bridge, but the needed funding would be impossible to find during the beginning of the Great Depression. Ultimately, the bridge was financed by a $35 million bond issue, which was passed in California in 1930, according to news reports.

The point is this. Zero in on some of the obstacles that those real-life builders encountered on the Golden Gate Bridge. And it explains why Shannon Tooten, 29, smiles widely when she talks about the 250 low-income patients she has helped to receive free-or-reduced-medications in the past year at the Newport News Health Clinic, which retired Riverside Regional Medical Center administrator Golden Hill launched in 2010.

“Say, I have a patient who needs a prescription that will cost $25 or more,” said Tooten who has worked for about a year as a medication assistant caseworker at the Newport News Health Clinic.

“I can go on the data base and get it at a discount through a preferred network,” said Tooten, who was treated as a patient at the Newport News Health Clinic before she became an employee. She visited the clinic to obtain a birth control implant device. There, administrators linked and connected her to health care providers who provided their services at reduced prices.

Tooten said, “So I understand how it feels when I tell a patient how to buy a prescription at a free or reduced price. Some of them leave me saying, ‘I feel so much better now.’ In some cases, I have helped patients get a prescription that will cost them only $25, after I go on the data base and help them get a discount through a preferred network.”

In other words, like thousands of anonymous workers built the legendary Golden Gate Bridge, the same applies to numerous health-care workers in Hampton Roads including Wooten who works behind the scenes at the clinic to help build a bridge for underserved minorities.

Tooten’s tech-savvy skills and personal experiences are helping to ease the (disproportionate) level of suffering that many minorities with health problems routinely encounter, as the 1984 Heckler report noted. But the ground-breaking Heckler report was published over 30 years ago.

“I like being a bridge that helps others gain access to free or reduced medication,” Tooten said. “I have the ability to use the internet for patients who don’t have the internet or a smart phone. I am the middle man to better health,” she added, smiling widely.

Wooten said, “It makes me feel warm inside when I help others. For example, I have a Hepatitis C patient who needs medication (Harvoni), which costs $30,000 for 12 weeks.”
According to news reports, Harvoni had a more than 95 percent success rate in a recent study on 865 patients with various types of Hepatitis C. Those who received Harvoni once daily for 12 weeks were cured.

Describing the bridge that she helps to build at her office computer every single day in the clinic in Newport News, Tooten said, “I was able to help the patient get the medication (Harvoni) for free. He thanked me so much. They were going to deliver it but it is so expensive that they needed a signature before they would deliver the prescription. I called him and told him. He did what was necessary and received his medication. He is so happy. He said he is blessed. Oh yes, some of our patients visit our clinic and later make donations.”
Tooten is in her 20s. So she does not have any serious health problems. Still, she feels uplifted after she links and connects others to equitable health care. “I don’t have any special health issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes,” Tooten said. “Still, I would say I’ve helped about 250 patients in a year to get free or discounted prices on medication.”

Next WeekPart Two – How a Newport News Clinic and a Retired Doctor are Building Bridges that are Helping Many.

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor

A new program for residents of South Hampton Roads offers support to caregivers with a family member living with Alzheimer’s or other memory loss diseases.

The Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health (CEALH), in partnership with the University of Virginia and the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, recently announced the expansion of its F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. program into South Hampton Roads, including Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Suffolk.

F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. – short for Family Access to Memory Impairment and Loss Information, Engagement and Support – provides counseling and support for caregivers at no cost over several months. In some areas, telehealth opportunities are available.

“The goal is to help bring entire families together in big and small ways to help the primary caregiver in caring for a family member with dementia,” said Dr. Christine Jensen, CEALH’s Director of Health Services Research. “Compassionate, trained counselors assess the individual situation, help with understanding of memory loss and how it may progress, develop an individualized care program for the family and discuss coping strategies for stress and changes in personality or behaviors.”

Through this New York University-Caregiver Intervention program, caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease or other types of memory loss receive six free counseling sessions, and one follow up, with trained counselors to help reduce stress and depression, increasing family support, enhancing knowledge for managing memory disorders, and providing assistance with finding local services and resources.

“The F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. program is the longest running intervention to support dementia related caregivers out there,” Jensen said. “Caregivers and their families are getting free confidential sessions with counselors who are certified in the very specific type of care. Not just for the caregiver, but for the entire family and team.” This presentation of the program is the first time this innovative program has been offered in Virginia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of people 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015 was 130,000. That’s expected to jump to 190,000 by 2025. Among those adults 45 and older, 11 percent, or one in every nine, are currently experiencing memory loss or confusion.

There are more than 450,000 caregivers in the Commonwealth alone providing this unpaid care to these individuals, according to the Association.

PBS recently visited CEALH in Williamsburg to film a portion of an upcoming documentary featuring the program and highlight its impact on families.

F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. “gave me the opportunity to discuss ‘feelings’ about my situation that I would not normally do,” one participant reported.

“It made me understand that I was not in this thing alone,” another said.

Additional benefits of the program include assistance in finding local services and resources and access to respite care during counseling sessions.

“As the sessions went on, I was able to mobilize resources for me that I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the counselor – from support groups to financial planning to just figuring out what the issues were,” one program participant said. “She really helped guide me.”

Similar programs, Jensen added, have been shown to delay the need for nursing home care.

“We’ve had folks, primary caregivers, who weren’t quite sure how to tell other family members they needed help,” Jensen said. “They didn’t know how to divide the load of responsibilities. Bringing families together in this guided support with a counselor who is skilled helps folks realize they are not alone.”

To determine if you are eligible for the for this program or to learn more, call Riverside toll free at (888) 597-0828 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to integrate interdisciplinary aging research with clinical capabilities to develop innovative programming that can be applied and sustained by Riverside Health System, the community and other providers of aging-related services to improve care and better meet the needs of a growing older adult population. Services and programs include, among others, a Geriatric Assessment Clinic, Driver Rehabilitation Clinic, Chronic Disease Self Management Program, ‘Caring for You, Caring for Me’ Program and Operation Family Caregiver.

To learn more, visit

Men’s Health Network (MHN) is encouraged by the latest recommendations from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) that urges men to talk to their healthcare providers about when, or if, they need to be screened for prostate cancer.  This recommendation is not yet final and is open for public comment.

The group’s latest draft recommendation is an improvement over the 2012 decision to recommend against the use of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing for the early detection of prostate cancer.

MHN believes that the Task Force’s latest findings will encourage more men to talk to their medical providers about prostate cancer screening.

“While we recognize the need for screening is greater in some men than others, we hope the latest recommendation will encourage all men to take a more active role in their health and wellness,” said Ana Fadich, Vice President of MHN.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with more than 161,000 new cases each year and over 26,000 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. African-American men, men with a family history of the disease, and men exposed to Agent Orange and some other chemicals are at greater risk. 

“MHN believes all men should speak to their healthcare provider about a baseline prostate cancer screening at age 40, earlier if they wish, and consult with their health care provider about screenings beyond that age,” Fadich said.  “We are particularly encouraged by the acknowledgment that ‘patient preferences’ are critical to important screenings and healthy outcomes.”

“As a society, we have taken prostate cancer too lightly for far too long. As the second leading cancer killer of men, it occupies a niche among diseases that closely parallels breast cancer among women both in terms of incidence and death rates in their respective populations,” said Dr. Jean Bonhomme, a physician, board member of MHN, and founder of the National Black Men’s Health Network. “Every man should be given the opportunity to consider screening, especially those at higher than average risk owing to race, family history, or other factors.“

 “The importance of PSA testing is that it’s bringing men into contact with the healthcare system,” said Dr. Ramon Perez, an urologist and advisor to MHN. “Hispanic men may not have access to adequate healthcare – it is becoming a major problem in treating problems that are an epidemic.”

High-risk communities also benefit from increased communication with health providers.

“Community outreach programs serving high-risk populations facilitate communication between community members and healthcare providers,” said Darrell Sabbs, legislative affairs and community benefits manager for Phoebe Health Systems. “In many cases, these groups may not access the healthcare system and have a dialogue with their medical professionals about PSA test among other issues.”

“Increased communication between men and their medical providers will cause them to be more knowledgeable about their health and make more informed choices,” said James Morning, advisor to MHN, Vietnam veteran, and a prostate cancer survivor. “It is important that men, particularly African-American men, get a complete check-up, including the PSA. So many men today are being diagnosed with later-stage prostate cancer because they were not regularly screened.”

The Task Force is a government supported panel composed of national medical experts whose recommendations influence healthcare providers and both public and private insurance coverage decisions. Preventive screenings rated A or B by the Task Force are covered by the Affordable Care Act. 

MHN’s screening recommendations for men and for women can be found at

For more information on MHN’s ongoing Dialogue on Men’s Health series, visit

Men’s Health Network (MHN) is joining organizations and communities across the country in April to recognize Testicular Cancer Awareness Month as part of its pledge to advocate for the health and wellness of men and their families.

 Testicular cancer is the most common cancer among men aged between 15 and 35 years old and has one of the highest survival rates if found early. That’s what makes prevention techniques and overall awareness critically important.

“Testicular cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer in young men and boys but remains a very treatable cancer,” said Ana Fadich, MPH, CHES, Vice President at MHN. “That is why awareness is essential in reaching younger men who may not receive cancer prevention messages and educate them about the importance of early detection.”

The website helps educate people about risk factors, warning signs, and treatment options for the disease. The site offers videos, a social media toolkit, downloadable brochures, research articles, and examples of awareness activities to turn a difficult-to-discuss problem into an interactive and easier-to-approach learning experience.

MHN and its partner organizations are urging men to take a more active role in their health and be aware of how to screen for testicular cancer.

“Early detection for testicular cancer is absolutely critical. Many years of life from too many men and boys have been lost because of this disease,” said Dr. Michael J. Rovito, Assistant Professor of Health Sciences at the University of Central Florida and Founder of Men’s Health Initiative, Inc., “It’s time males became more aware of the risks and began to take action to become familiar with their bodies.”

Rovito further suggested that “males should perform testicular self-examination monthly to monitor if anything abnormal develops. If something out of the ordinary is discovered, males should speak to their healthcare provider immediately.”

Learn more about MHN at and follow them on Twitter @MensHlthNetwork and Facebook at For more information on MHN’s ongoing Dialogue on Men’s Health series, visit   

The pollen count is through the roof and once again, you have a stuffy nose, sinus pain, fatigue and reduced sense of smell and taste. Oh great, another bad allergy season, you think.
And you’d be wrong. These are the hallmarks of a sinus infection, not allergies, though most allergy patients can’t tell the difference.

Thirty-five million Americans suffer from nasal allergies and 7 million suffer from chronic sinus infections, yet most people can’t tell the difference between these two conditions.
Here’s a breakdown of which symptoms belong to which ailments.

The Common Cold: If your congested nose and breathing difficulty last longer than seven to 10 days, it’s probably not a cold. Most likely, it’s allergies, and needs to be treated with an antihistamine, not a decongestant.

Seasonal Allergies – If your sinus congestion is accompanied by watery or itchy eyes and it tends to last several weeks, it’s may be allergies. The problem is, many often treat their allergies like a cold, with over-the-counter decongestants, which will work in the short run but are not advisable. When someone is taking a daytime decongestant every day and a nighttime one to sleep, for weeks and weeks, this is not good. Especially when their allergy might be due to an environmental trigger, such as a feather pillow, that could be easily eliminated.

Sinusitis or Chronic Sinusitis – With sinusitis, the nasal passageways become inflamed and the liter or more of mucus created every day by your body gets backed up in the sinuses. This is when you get patients complaining of headache, pressure or pain in their face and chronic fatigue.

A headful of mucus is an exhausted head, one that’s hard to lift off the pillow and patients can be irritable and fatigued on most days,“ says Silvers. If you suffer from facial tenderness, pressure or pain, headache behind the eyes and forehead, or loss of taste or smell and fatigue, you may have sinusitis.

If you experience this three or more times a year, you may have chronic sinusitis, and should consult with your physician or an ear, nose and throat specialist. What most people don’t know, is that you can have sinusitis without having a runny or stuffy nose or difficulty breathing, because the mucus is congested further back in the sinuses.

If you suffer from any of the above symptoms and they do not resolve within a week or so (and hence are unlikely to be a cold or flu), you should consider seeing your physician, who may refer you to an allergist or an ear, nose and throat specialist. The severity of your facial pain, headache and sensation of pressure is probably the most important factor in distinguishing sinus infections from allergies. Allergies usually don’t cause nearly as much pain and pressure as sinus infections do.

Another way to tell the difference between allergies and sinus infections is to note how they develop and how long they last. Sinus infections don’t just suddenly appear out of nowhere; they always follow either allergies or an upper respiratory infection or cold that has been present for at least 10 days. Untreated sinus infections typically last about two weeks. In contrast, allergies tend to be seasonal; their intensity is affected by the local allergen count.

An itchy, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes – medically known as conjunctivitis – are an indication of allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. They are not a sign of a sinus infection, but if you suffer from allergies, you may have these symptoms along with your sinus symptoms.

Most likely, right about now, many of the readers of this column are dealing with springtime, seasonal allergies.

Allergies can produce many of the same cold-like symptoms as a sinus infection, including sinus pressure, a runny nose and congestion. But the condition itself, called allergic rhinitis, is different. It is caused by an allergic response to allergens, such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander.

Pollen season can begin as early as February and last through October, although weather patterns and your location can alter the start and end dates. If you’re already dreading the return of sneezing, sniffles, stuffiness, and itchy, watery or dry eyes, take steps to keep allergy symptoms from activating your immune system.

Spring pollen is now at our doors and can often look like a fine dusting of snow. Sometimes it’s white but often pollen is yellow and can leave a powdery layer on your car and windows. At that point it may seem obvious why pollen could be irritating your eyes and sinus passages. Yet pollen, even when unseen, can cause the body’s immune system to overreact. The body thinks the pollen is a hostile invader and releases antibodies and chemicals (histamine) to defend itself. It’s the histamine which is released into the blood that causes the runny nose and sneezing.

What can you do about allergies?

Millions of people search for allergy remedies and take antihistamines to block the histamines from building up in the blood. People who do this can have success, but at a price. Many report drowsiness, constipation, anxiety and dry mouth. Ultimately, we don’t know the long-term effects of these synthetic drugs on our bodies. Use caution when taking them on a regular basis.

If you suspect your nasal congestion and other symptoms are the result of sinus problems rather than allergies, you may just need to be patient, take care of yourself and use over-the-counter medications as needed until the infection clears. However, if symptoms last for more than two weeks, or if they are severe, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

By Glenn Ellis