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After Having Her Blood Pressure Reach ‘Stroke Level’, Marcella Roberts is Raising Awareness

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Marcella Roberts, American Heart Association (AHA) National Board Member, is raising awareness that stroke is largely preventable, treatable and beatable. (Marika N. Johnson, For The Birmingham Times)

By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson | For The Birmingham Times

Marcella Roberts, American Heart Association (AHA) National Board Member, remembers being at a Scientific Sessions Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana when a blood pressure machine caught her attention.

It was the shape of the machine, which was peculiar and looked like the sleeve of an arm, she remembered.

“I was fascinated so I walked up and so I put my arm in it. I couldn’t see the numbers, but the attendant could see the reading and she started to ask me questions about how I was doing,” said Roberts.

What began as a normal day quickly turned into a moment that almost floored her, said Roberts, 56, an attorney and business owner.

The Pivotal Reading

Still unaware of the condition of what was soon to be revealed, Roberts complied with the request of the machine’s attendant.

The medical professional asked Roberts to put her arm in the blood pressure sleeve again. And she asked again and again to be sure. Roberts’ blood pressure was not only high, but it was at stroke level.

“Everybody was just shocked that I was walking around with my blood pressure that high. I felt fine … (so before learning my numbers) I had no reason to be alarmed,” she said.

With the help of a friend, Roberts took an Uber to the Emergency Room at Tulane University. “My numbers were even higher in there,” she said.

Roberts was told to check with her primary care doctor “when I got back [to Birmingham] the next day.”

Roberts would travel home the following day, but that night she looked up a few home remedies to help her lower her blood pressure until she saw her primary care doctor.

“Not only did my primary care doctor put me on medication, but I in turn (later) lost about 30 pounds (by adhering to a better eating plan) to manage this new diagnosis,” she said.

Adjusting her diet drastically because she’s a self-described “foodie, and I love to eat” was a challenge, said Roberts.

May is AHA Stroke Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness that stroke is largely preventable, treatable and beatable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack or even kidney failure.

It’s called “the silent killer” because it often has no symptoms. But if you notice unusual fatigue, chest pain or an irregular heartbeat, health officials advise you always check with your primary care doctor sooner rather than later.

Also, blood pressure monitors can be purchased for in-home use or people can use them free of charge at local pharmacies and fire departments.

The Joy of the Lord

Roberts is a married mother of four with three grandchildren and now shares everything about her health scare in November 2023.

Asked how she maintains her strength in spite of what she faced, she quickly noted, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

She’s a Birmingham native, graduating from Jones Valley High School (now Jones Valley Middle School) in western Birmingham.

She attended Stillman College in Tuscaloosa after high school graduation and obtained her Juris Doctorate from Miles College in Fairfield.

After the health scare Roberts said she eats better and reduces stress. She also talks about the importance of knowing your family history.

“[My] hypertension was hereditary, and I had numerous family members who struggled with high blood pressure from three or four generations,” said Roberts.

She’s continued to educate herself about “how common it is for women and people of color to have hypertension.”

She’s not only passionate about living her best life, but purposes to help others do the same.

For anyone dealing with a health scare or new diagnosis, she gives this word of wisdom. “Do not fear. Go to your heavenly Father and ask for what you want. Make a plan and do it, but do not fear,” she said.

Goals To Live Healthy

Theresa Rodgers, who holds a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) and is also a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP), also has had a personal experience with high blood pressure.

She’s retired from Children’s Hospital and is now at UAB as adjunct instructor of clinical faculty and said everyone should know their numbers.

“I couldn’t I get my first job as a nurse because my blood pressure was (too high) 160 / 100, she said.  “Here I am 22 – with no headaches no signs of high blood pressure.”

“The goal is 120 / 80 for normal blood pressure,” she said.

And she added there are things that you as an individual can do prior to taking medicine to manage the condition.

“If you’re overweight, the goal is to get to a healthy weight. Eat a diet that is low in salt. Limit alcohol, and if you’re a smoker, you need to quit smoking,” said Rodgers.

Roberts agreed and added the importance of annual wellness checkups “to get a full workup on what your blood looks like – including your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.”

“If we can get control of what we’re eating… that has a big impact on our health. And because most of us are so sedentary, make sure you get exercise,” said Roberts.

For more information on the American Heart Association visit www.heart.org.