Diagram of the human heart. (90641)

Recognition of the importance of Heart Valve Awareness Day is practically nonexistent for most Americans, unless you are someone like Candice Tarter, who 12 years ago was afflicted with rheumatic fever that eventually led to four open heart surgeries.

Today, Tarter, a Black woman in Michigan whose ordeal with heart valve disease was first publicly disclosed in an article on the online site, Michigan Medicine News, is a living example of what can be done to survive the disease, once diagnosed and properly treated. Now a teacher at Detroit’s Marion Law Academy, having long ago set aside her dream of an athletic career, she now aggressively encourages her fifth grade students to be responsible for their own actions, education and life—lessons she had to learn the hard way.

The lessons for Tarter’s young charges are now promoted as part of the annual Heart Valve Awareness Day that occurs during Black History Month, every Feb. 22. It is conservatively estimated that as many as 11 million Americans have heart valve disease. “When we learned from a 2016 survey that too many Americans, especially African Americans, had never heard of heart valve disease, we decided something had to be done to spread the word,” said Lloyd Williams, president of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce (GHCC).

“That’s why we are asking all to ‘Listen to Your Heart,’ which is our slogan this year, and come out on Saturday morning, Feb. 22, beginning at 11 a.m. to the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Building to receive important presentations by expert health practitioners, interactive exercise demonstrations and, most importantly, free health screenings.”  The program is part of the GHCC’s Black History Month Health Events.

While Tarter had early symptoms of heart valve disease, such warnings don’t always occur, even after the disease has become extremely severe. A heart murmur is one of the most important indicators that something may be wrong, and you would be wise to ‘Listen to Your Heart,’ regarding this murmur. There is a tendency for too many people to dismiss shortness of breath to general aging, and sharp pains as gastrointestinal issues. That’s why screenings are absolutely necessary for any irregular heart rhythm, or some of the symptoms Candice Tarter experienced.

Spreading the word, sharing your story, and participating in events on Heart Valve Awareness Day such as the one on Feb. 22 will help people to listen very carefully to what the heart is saying. So you are encouraged to RSVP to Ms. Sutton at 212.862.7200 or visit the Chamber’s website www.greaterharlemchamber.com; spread the word; and come out on Feb. 22.