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May is stroke awareness month and a stroke is an emergency. It can happen to anyone, at any time or any age. There is a huge disparity between African-Americans and Hispanics when compared with Caucasians.

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the African-American community, and medical experts identify lifestyle choices as a leading factor. Obesity and high blood pressure are risk factors that contribute to strokes, and it appears there are not enough voices discussing the problem.

High blood pressure is the No. 1 risk factor in the African-American community for strokes; however, it is not viewed as a state of emergency in our families. Many doctors acknowledge that more than 45 percent of African-Americans have the condition, but the medical profession cannot explain why it is so prevalent in our community.

I am a stroke survivor. I am a miracle.

March 12, 2004, I had a stroke, and it changed my life forever. After being in ICU for three days, and no one knowing if I would live or die, I recovered my consciousness, but my right side was entirely paralyzed. Despite the dire circumstances, I dedicated myself to rehabilitation, and I made a miraculous recovery.

“My struggle as a stroke survivor is connected in everyone’s struggle everywhere,” I wrote in my book, “The Inspiring Journey of a Stroke Survivor.” “There is a journey somewhere in everyone’s life. The way we react to that journey tells us more than we want to truly admit. It tells us who we are.”

A stroke will change your perception of yourself, and depending on the severity, you might never recover. No two strokes are the same, and changing your lifestyle is the secret to living a healthy life. Before suffering a stroke, I refused to follow my doctor’s orders and did not take my prescribed medication, and I had a devastating and traumatic stroke.

There is a state of emergency in the African-American community with high blood pressure, and it is time for more voices to begin talking about our terrible numbers compared with Caucasians. Nearly 63 percent of African-American men are overweight, and that number jumps to a little more than 77 percent for African-American women.

We can make excuses for why this condition is prevalent in our community, but many men and women do not exercise and we consume unhealthy diets. Almost 28 percent in the African-American community uses tobacco and the use of drugs is also a contributing factor. To understand why African-American are three times more likely than Caucasians to suffer a stroke, we must study our family history.

“There’s a huge campaign from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association called ‘Power to End Stroke’ focused on trying to increase awareness of the greater risk of stroke in African-Americans and the importance of controlling risk factors,” said Ralph Sacco, M.D., neurologist-in-chief at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Fla.

Awareness of your personal risk factors is the initial step in lowering blood pressure—and lowering your chance of a stroke. As a community, all African-Americans must increase their visits and access to medical care. Allowing tobacco and alcohol advertisements in our communities must end, and heart-healthy diets and exercise plans for all ages must be increased.

According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, three out of four strokes could be avoided or prevented. It is essential that primary care physicians make sure the appropriate preventive medication is prescribed to patients, and education efforts should emphasize stroke prevention along with stroke recognition.

There must be a higher priority about stroke prevention in every community in America, and education is key.