Luther T. Clark, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.P.
Chief, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, professor of Clinical Medicine, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center; chief, Cardiology Services, Kings County Hospital Center
Brooklyn, New York
By Katherine Adu
For a long time, the true impact of cardiovascular diseases on African-Americans was masked by myths about the disease. The truth is African-Americans have the highest overall coronary disease mortality rate in the United States, says Luther T. Clark, chief, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, and professor of Clinical Medicine at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center.
Clark, who also heads Cardiology Services at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, says he is bent on dispelling the myths. “I feel privileged to be recognized as a leader in the field of medicine. But with the prestige also comes tremendous responsibility and a lot of hard work,” says the recipient of the 2005 Pioneer in Cardiology Award for Outstanding Achievement in cardiovascular medicine.
Born in Bradenton, Fla., Clark earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1975. He completed postgraduate training at Roosevelt Hospital, now known as St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, in New York City.
At SUNY Downstate, one of the nation’s largest academic cardiology centers, Clark provides overall leadership for patient care, physician education, research and community outreach. A scholar of medicine and history, he is dedicated to documenting the pioneering achievements of African-American physicians and scientists.
He attributes the high rate of cardiovascular diseases among African-Americans to the prevalence in the group of risk factors for heart disease, patient delays in seeking medical care and a health-care system rife with disparities. “A tragedy and continuing national paradox in the U.S. is that despite the tremendous advances that have been made in medical therapies and the improvement in overall health status for the general population, significant health inequities persist among African-Americans and other minorities” he says.
To reduce these disparities, it is essential to improve access and encourage greater use of preventive, diagnostic, interventional and high-tech cardiovascular therapies, as well as to foster better physician-patient communications, he says.
Kamau Kokayi, M.D., A.A.M.A.
Medical Director, Olive Leaf Wholeness Center
New York City
By Inés Bebea
Dr. Kamau Kokayi’s approach to medicine involves getting to the emotional, psychological, physical and biochemical root of a patient’s illness. As medical director of the Olive Leaf Wholeness Center, a leading holistic health center in New York City that treats a host of illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, Kokayi’s practice embraces Chinese medicine, meditation, natural herbs and acupuncture. “I was drawn to holistic medicine because traditional Western medicine is very limited in its options for treatment and approach to patients,” he says.
Kokayi is a graduate of Yale Medical School and the Dynamis School of Homeopathy in London, and has completed postgraduate programs at the New England School of Homeopathy. He is the creator and co-host of the radio talk show Global Medicine Review, heard on WBAI every Wednesday. Prior to becoming medical director at Olive Leaf, Kokayi was the medical director of Kings County Hospital’s Acupuncture Clinic for substance abuse in Brooklyn for 13 years. “[Western medicine] also places too much emphasis on the doctor as the end-all source of information and remedies,” he says.
As a crucial part of the treatment of his patients, he tries to determine if their diet or their emotional state—brought about by personal relationships, work and home environments, and their community—may be the cause of their physical ailments. “There have been cases where, when we caught the symptoms of diabetes and hypertension early, we were able to reverse them,” he says. “It all has to do with really looking at the entire person and their lifestyle.”
Kokayi argues that medical schools teach future doctors the correlation between the mind and the body in patient diagnosis. During practical training, however, medical institutions detach the two in favor of prescribing drugs. “Pharmaceutical companies have a lot of influence on doctors and medical institutions. There has been a strong push to medicate the body by popping pills to treat all ailments,” he says.
Those who turn to holistic medicine have made a conscious decision to approach their health and lives differently, he says.
Roy Winston Streete D.D.S.
CEO, Organization for International Development
by Katherine Adu
In rural Jamaica where Roy Streete grew up, there was neither running water nor electricity. That doesn’t mean his was a poverty-stricken life, he is quick to point out. Still, “seeing so many people in need made me want to give back,” says Streete, a dentist and founder and CEO of Organization for International Development in the Bronx, N.Y.
After completing high school in Jamaica, Streete joined his parents in New York. With dreams of becoming a dentist, he enrolled at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, then transferred to Lehman College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. A D.D.S. from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1986 came next, followed by New York Medical College and a master’s degree in public health in 1992, with emphasis on international health. Degrees aside, the road to his dream was rough, Streete says. Working part-time as a dental technician while in college, it took him 12 years to become a dentist.
Not content with just practicing dentistry, he decided to organize a group of doctors for a volunteer mission to Jamaica. Three years after he opened his dental practice in the Bronx in 1987, he launched the Organization for International Development and led a mission to Jamaica to provide basic and specialized medical help to those who could not afford it. Fifteen years and 27 missions to Jamaica later, what was birthed as Streete’s small contribution to his native land has expanded to the wider Caribbean and Africa. A mission is slated for Ghana in August. The organization now has more than 100 members, 30 of whom are doctors and 80 percent of whom are Black. The fact that so many are Black is important, Streete says, because it changes the face of international aid. Most people are surprised when they meet his group because they associate aid with white people, he says.
He argues that would-be doctors should do volunteer work and not just concentrate on earning money. “If they want a fulfilling career they have to give back to the community. Through this they can also be role models to those they help,” he says. Fund-raising events, donations and membership fees keep the organization going, Streete says.
Jerome V. Tolbert, M.Sc., Ph.D., M.D.
Cabrini Medical Center
New York City
The biggest challenge in the war against diabetes has been providing relevant support in the communities to compliment the education diabetics receive. With African-Americans accounting for a disproportionately large number of the new diagnoses each year, Dr. Jerome V. Tolbert is totally committed to the fight to get them to change their diet and health habits. “We are at a point where if things continue in this manner, you will see parents outlive their children,” he says.
An attending physician in the department of endocrinology and internal medicine at Cabrini Medical Center, New York City, Tolbert earned his doctorate of medicine from New York University Medical School. He also holds a master’s degree in endocrinology from Howard University and a Ph.D. in endocrinology from Catholic University of America.
The next phase in diabetes prevention is to get prediabetics to be more responsible about their nutrition and to include exercise in their lives, he says. “People need to understand that through a simple blood test you can change your diagnosis from prediabetic to nondiabetic,” he notes. For those who have a family history of the disease, diabetes can be kept at bay by exercising 150 minutes a week, losing five to seven pounds of body fat (10 to 20 pounds of weight), and by following a nutritional plan that eliminates fried and fatty foods and includes healthy carbohydrates, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables.
“We have to help our communities make an honest effort to get away from our quick and easy fast-food tendencies and eat better. While obesity is also a major factor in diabetes, skinny people can also be affected by family history and poor nutrition,” Tolbert says.
Tolbert plans to get the word out to anyone who will listen through his work with the American Diabetes Association and Project Power, a faith-based organization that brings diabetes awareness to churches, In the last two years, he says, there has been a 14 percent increase in diabetes diagnoses in the African-American community. “When children as young as four are diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes, their adult lives will be marked by complications [such as] hypertension, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, stroke, lost of sight and even possible amputations,” he says.