NBA icon Shaquille O’Neal was an honorary Chair of the Spirit of the Heart Awards Gala (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

The Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) recently hosted its 10th Annual Spirit of the Heart Awards Gala. Their special guest and honorary chair was NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.

The four-time NBA Champion partnered with Morehouse School of Medicine senior associate dean of clinical and transitional research Elizabeth Ofili, MD, MPH and Arbor Pharmaceuticals, to create the Get Real About Heart Failure campaign.

“I wanted to be the guy that brings awareness to the situation because I know how most adult males, especially African American men, think like me,” O’Neal said. “I just want to urge people to go out there and get checked once a year.”

Ofili noted the major issues of heart failure is that doctors do not prescribe patients with the proper medicine to combat the condition and how the medicine might be too expensive for patients. She then explained the website as a resource for people who want to know more about the disease.

ABC founder Richard Allen Williams, MD (second to left) poses with Loni Love (center) and former ABC board chair Robert Gillespie MD (second to right) (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

“You will find a lot of information not just about understanding heart failure from the perspective of a patient, but also learning how to talk to your physician and advocate,” Ofili said. “I think that’s the message that we want to put out there is every single one of us should learn about this and advocate.”

ABC also honored Golf legend Lee Elder with the 2019 Bob Jones Award. As well as being the first African American to make the Ryder Cup Team and to play in the Masters Tournament, he held an afterschool program at the Langston Golf Course in Washington D.C.

ABC works ardently to combat cardiovascular diseases in marginalized communities with their initiatives and projects. While there have been advancements in treatment to different diseases, people of color and those with low income are not given access to said treatments.

The organization not only trains patients, but physicians as well; they inform how a patient’s living conditions, methods of travel, and type of insurance are factors that could stifle their access to proper care.

ABC president John M. Fontaine MD, MBA (l) poses with ABC Board Chair Cheryl Pegus, MD, MPH(Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

When asked about the condition of his son, Shareef, O’Neal reassured that he is doing well since his open-heart surgery last year. Shareef was diagnosed with an anomalous coronary artery, a condition that causes an artery to grow in the wrong place.

“He had a heart condition when he was younger, they called it “boom boom.” So, we fixed it,” O’Neal said. “He was playing one day, he said he said he had another episode of the boom boom so I sent to UCLA medical, they found something was wrong … we talked about the options and he wanted to continue to play, so he went through the surgery and he’s fine now.”

During the gala, ABC honored the Sanofi Genzyme-Regeneron Aliance, UCLA professor and cardiologist Karol E. Watson, MD, PhD, Caribbean Foundation Heart Institute President B. Waine Kong, PhD, JD, and “Greenleaf” star Lamman Rucker.

“We do have a disproportionate access to quality care, yes there are a disproportionate number of us as people of color who are dying of diabetes and hypertension,” Rucker said. “I don’t know how to not care … and if you do care, then the next thing to do is to actually take action and do something about it.”