For three years, Cynthia Latty has been a dedicated Blood Pressure Ambassador, volunteering her time to go into the community and screen individuals who may not know they have hypertension, a condition that contributes to strokes and heart attacks.
Trained by Christiana Care, Blood Pressure Ambassadors have screened more than 10,000 people, primarily African-Americans who are at higher risk for hypertension. The program was launched in 2011 by Christiana Ray Blackwell, M.D., chief of Cardiac Surgery and W. Samuel Carpenter III Distinguished Chair of Cardiovascular Surgery.
Latty felt drawn to help — never thinking that she would become one of the many people who learned they have high blood pressure through the program.
“I have a heart for the Blood Pressure Ambassadors’ mission and for my community,” Latty said. “Knowledge truly is power because when people learn they have hypertension they can do something about it.”
Latty, 59, volunteers regularly at screenings at Wilmington Hospital. She also works as a commercial cleaner and is an ordained minister, serving as a chaplain at a nursing home.
“You don’t have to be a nurse to become a Blood Pressure Ambassador,” said Candyce M. Norris, the program’s project manager. “All you need is the desire to help your community.”
One day when Latty was volunteering, she didn’t feel well.
“I kept having headaches, not feeling good, and I brushed it off because I have had migraines,” she said.
A nurse who was working with the volunteers suggested Latty have her blood pressure checked.
“We did and my blood pressure was sky high,” she said. “I made an appointment with my doctor who immediately put me on medication.”
Typically, there are no physical symptoms for hypertension.
“They call high blood pressure the Silent Killer, so do not assume you are healthy just because you don’t feel sick,” said Dr. Blackwell, who also chairs the Blood Pressure Ambassador Advisory Committee. “By taking screenings directly to the community, more people are being diagnosed and receiving the treatment they need to keep their hypertension under control.”
Latty has a family history of high blood pressure, so she knows firsthand the damage that hypertension can do. Her grandmother and two uncles suffered strokes.
“My diagnosis scared me so bad that I began to take my health seriously,” she said. “I am very blessed that I learned I had a problem before something bad happened to me.”
She is taking medication as prescribed by her doctor and has embraced healthy lifestyle choices. She is working out four days a week and plans to run two 5k races in the next few months. She has given up soda and drinks water, instead. She has cut back dramatically on fried foods and sweets.
“I gave up my ice cream. Now, I just have a little frozen yogurt,” she said. “I’ve lost a few pounds, and I feel better all the way around.”
Launched in 2011, the Blood Pressure Ambassadors began with a handful of volunteers. Now more than 120 strong, the ambassadors do screenings at Wilmington Hospital, ShopRite on the Riverfront, Claymont Library and Wilmington Library, as well as churches and social gatherings. They also help people who don’t have insurance or a primary care provider to get connected to care.
“They are compassionate and caring people who have a commitment to their community,” Norris said. “If there’s a fair or a festival going on, odds are a Blood Pressure Ambassador is there.”
Learn more, get involved
To learn more about the Blood Pressure Ambassadors program, visit https://christianacare.org/bpambassadors/ or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.