HHMB addresses cardiovascular disease among men and women of color. (Courtesy photo)

Three years ago, I received a call from my friend Dr. Gail Wyatt and was asked if I knew someone that would be interested in joining her team to work on a research project entitled “Healing Our Hearts, Minds and Bodies” (HHMB), a five-year grant aimed at improving cardiovascular health among men and women of color living with HIV. Before she could complete the sentence, I said “I’m your guy.”

For those of you that don’t know her incredible history, Dr. Wyatt is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dr. Wyatt was the first African American woman in the state of California to receive a license to practice psychology and first African American woman to be named a full professor of the UCLA School of Medicine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease in the United States accounts for about 610,000 deaths every year and disproportionately affects people of color.  Together with histories of trauma, inconsistent treatment, adherence, and non-adherence – more work is needed.

Dr. Wyatt and her team have designed a novel, blended, culturally congruent, evidence-informed care model, “Healing our Hearts, Minds and Bodies” (HHMB), to address patients’ trauma histories and barriers to care, and to prepare patients to engage in CVD risk reduction. So, you see it’s no surprise as to why I said yes, right?

For the first year we were making tremendous progress recruiting men and women at greatest risk for cardiovascular disease to join us in our five-week training course that teaches relaxation exercises, understanding and dealing with historical trauma, problem-solving strategies and paths to a healthy heart.  All of this was going well, then along came COVID-19!

I don’t need to tell you the toll COVID-19 has taken on the most vulnerable in this country, a marginalized group of people now even more isolated due to COVID-19 protocols. So, what did the HHMB team do? I’m so glad you ask!

Dr. Wyatt and the team got creative. We refused to stop the good work we were doing, while at the same time opening up a new world to many of our HHMB participants. As a result, we are now providing HHMB participants with new tablets and WiFi hotspots with 6 months of prepaid WiFi.

This bold and creative step not only provides a way for many of our participants to continue to take part in the HHMB project virtually, but also a way to stay connected to family and friends during these challenging times. It can get lonely for people who do not have transportation and have difficulty even getting out for a doctor’s appointment. HHMB is a way to heal the heart and connect with each other, though from a distance.

We need your help to stay on course. If you or a friend or a family member is living with HIV and might be a good match for this project, please feel free to contact us at (310) 206-9860 (English) or (855) 533-3925 (Spanish) to see if you are eligible to participate in the HHMB project. Or please email Tony Wafford at [email protected]. Make your ‘new normal’ a healthy one.