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At Central Baptist, worshippers say amen to veggie sandwiches and fruit

Shermane Winters-Wofford
Robert Joiner | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 20, 2013: Turkey, ham, and veggie sandwiches on whole wheat bread from Subway, along with bananas, apples and oranges, probably are not part of a typical meal after worship service at Central Baptist Church in midtown.

Following Sunday’s service, however, many from the congregation gathered in the church’s annex across the street and munched on the nutritious sandwiches and fruit. They later listened to an expert talk about the value of healthy eating and exercise in order to prevent stroke.

The speaker, Shermane Winters-Wofford, is well qualified to talk about this health issue.

“I was raised in an African-American household, and I watched my grandmother cook with lard and butter,” she began. “Everything was deep fried. What she cooked was unhealthy, but it was filled with love. I didn’t know how to do anything else. So I did the same thing. And it almost killed me. I’m a two-time stroke survivor.”

The Beacon has been following various health initiatives at Central Baptist and New Sunny Mount Baptist Church as part of our series called Fit City. Winters-Wofford noted that death from stroke is twice as high among blacks than among whites, and that blacks tend to suffer from more disabling strokes than whites.

She also said blacks could reduce the deaths and disabilities by taking “those little bitty steps to make lifestyle changes.” These included paying more attention to excess weight, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, high cholesterol and diabetes. In addition, she urged people to exercise regularly and consume healthy foods.

“Stroke is killing us disproportionately faster," she said, "and we are not watching what we eat and not watching our exercise habits. Sad to say, our children are watching this. This is how it’s perpetuated. We are passing it on to the next generation, and we need to do a whole lot better.”

Winters-Wofford explained that a stroke results from a disruption of blood flow to the brain, due either to a blood clot or the rupture of a blood vessel. In a matter of minutes, she warned, brain cells begin to die but she notes that quick medical attention can head off permanent neurological damage.

She says women are accustomed to paying attention to the needs of others but not their own. They may tend to put off getting to the emergency room at the onset of what turns out to be a stroke, thinking the symptoms, such as slurred speech or loss of feeling in a limb, can be “cured” with a little rest.

Researchers also have noted that  some blacks are reluctant to call 9-1-1 even when they are aware that they or a loved one might have suffered a stroke. Part of the reluctance might be due to being unable to afford the cost of 9-1-1 medical service, according to one University of Michigan study.

Many at the Central Baptist session praised the comments from Winters-Wofford, saying they had learned things they never realized about stroke.

Yvette Billington
Credit Robert Joiner | St. Louis Beacon | 2013
Yvette Billington

“It’s like a light bulb went off in my head after listening to her,” says Yvette Billington. “She just opened my eyes. I became more aware of the things that I am putting in my mouth. I have a desire to do better, but knowing that [I] could have a stroke at any time increases my need to want to be healthy.”

Rev. Alice C. Price, executive minister at Central Baptist, says blacks need to pay more attention to the connections between eating habits and health conditions, such as stroke.

“We have got to learn to discipline ourselves to read labels,” Price said. “Just because something tastes good doesn’t mean it is good. We tend to be people who want comfort. I guess that’s the human thing. We want things that feel good, taste good, sound good.”

On the other hand, she said, “We are not willing to make the sacrifice that it takes to get out of that trap of pleasing ourselves. We teach from the Bible that we have got to make sacrifices, but we don’t translate that into our eating.”

She says events like the discussion about stroke offer church members a chance to learn, reach out and spread the word about eating, exercising and other habits to improve health.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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