Tony Wafford, Dick Butkus and Frank Wheaton (Courtesy Photo)

For Black History month, I Choose Life wanted to make it a Healthy Black History month. With the support of the National Football League (NFL), I Choose Life Health and Wellness Center partnered with Reverend K.W. Tullouss, the newly elected President of the Los Angeles Baptist Ministers Conference, Chicago Bears’ Hall of Famer Mr. Dick Butkus and the Dick Butkus Heart and Vascular Screening Center to provide free, comprehensive education and screenings focused on detecting heart disease in its earliest stages.

Twenty-five African American men drove from Los Angeles to St. Joseph Hospital Heart and Vascular Center in the City of Orange, California to receive a free Electron Beam Computed Tomography (EBCT), also referred to as an ultrafast CT. “This is a type of high-speed CT scan designed to detect plaque in the coronary arteries. The EBCT heart scan is used to determine if a patient is at risk for a future heart attack. The EBCT is painless and takes approximately 10 minutes.” said Lawrence J. Santora, MD, with specialty in Cardiology and Cardiovascular Disease.

For those of you that may not be familiar with football, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Richard Marvin “Dick” Butkus. Dick played professional football as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL). Through his nine seasons, he was invited to eight Pro Bowls, named a first-team All-Pro six times, and was twice recognized by his peers as the NFL’S Defensive Player of the Year. Renowned as a fierce tackler and for the relentless effort with which he played, Butkus is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most intimidating linebackers in pro football history.

I met Dick last year during his annual charity golf tournament and event that benefits The Butkus Foundation at Larry Ellison’s private Porcupine Creek Estate Golf Course in Rancho Mirage, CA. After getting over the gross display of wealth that I had ever seen–I ask Dick why this issue and was he doing any work in African American communities and he said, I am now let’s start!

Rev. K. W. Tullouss, Dr. Lawrence Santora, Dick Butkus, Tony Wafford and the Men from Los Angelesn (Courtesy Photo)

He shared with me that in August 2001, he met with Dr. Santora to learn more about the EBCT heart scan and to possibly support getting the word out about the importance of getting scanned for early detection of heart disease. He decided to get a scan himself, well in less than 48 hours, Butkus underwent quintuple bypass surgery to remove blockages in his arteries. “I felt great! I was a little over weight, but I felt fine; only to learn that I had one foot on a banana peel and the other one in the grave.” said Butkus.

Heart Disease in the United States is a major issue with about 610,000 people dying every year. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease, killing over 370,000 people annually. Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack, and 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, killing 321,000 men in 2013, that’s 1 in every 4 male deaths! Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men of most racial/ethnic groups in the United States, including African Americans, second only to cancer.

Heart Disease is the No. 1 killer for all Americans, and stroke is also a leading cause of death. As frightening as those statistics are, the risks of those diseases are even higher among African-Americans. The good news is, African-Americans can improve their odds of preventing and beating these diseases by taking simple steps to address issues of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and stroke. “It’s projects like this that breathes life into the words of the bible. In 1 Samuel 25:6 ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!’ We saved lives today and I thank God for that.” said Rev. K.W. Tullouss.

ICL and the Butkus Foundation are currently in the planning stage to partner with the National Football League and its teams to create a major movement focusing on education, community organizing and mobilization against heart disease. For more information, please contact I Choose Life Health and Wellness Center at [email protected].