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A reminder to guard your heart

10-22-10 901 East Sibley Blvd. South Hollillinois. Mary Mitchell Story about Dr. KarDavis internist Christian Community Health Center  with

10-22-10 901 East Sibley Blvd. South Holland, illinois. Mary Mitchell Story about Dr. Kara Davis, internist at the Christian Community Health Center with her now book called Spirtual Secrets. Photo by Scott Stewart/Sun-Times

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Updated: March 2, 2013 6:24AM

I watched intently as the cardiologist drew a picture of my mother’s heart.

“Here is where the opening has gotten smaller, causing the heart to work harder,” she said. “And here, these are the valves that are leaking.”

I know the chances that my frail, 85-year-old mother will recover are pretty slim.

I also know I am likely looking at my future. My father died of congestive heart failure at age 80.

Although cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, I knew little about how to protect myself from this disease.

I’m not alone.

“Heart disease is largely preventable but it remains the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. and the No. 1 cause of death in women,” noted Dr. Kara Davis, the author of “Spiritual Secrets to a Healthy Heart,” which will be in book stores Feb. 5 but is available now at

I’m an avid fan of Davis’ work because she has boldly incorporated her Christian beliefs into her calling to heal the sick.

In the introduction to her book, she quotes a powerful proverb: “My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:20-23.

“When we think of heart disease, we think of high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. But we might not be aware of how our emotional, mental and spiritual health impacts our heart,” Davis told me in an interview.

My father, who struggled to keep his weight down, had Type 2 diabetes. My mother has always been thin as a reed but is a notorious worrier.

I could see my father’s looming battle with heart disease but never considered my mother’s risk.

In her book, Davis breaks down the subject of heart disease into three parts: “How We Live; How We Feel; How It Is.”

“How We Live” deals with the traditional things that we think about: nutrition, sodium and high blood pressure, cholesterol, carbohydrates, smoking and alcohol. “How We Feel” deals with depression, anger, stress and a negative attitude. “How It Is” focuses on cardiac risk factors, the environment, medications and heart procedures.

The release of the book is especially timely.

“Heart Disease Month and Black History Month are both in February, which is ironic because African Americans have more heart disease and more of the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes,” she said.

Davis spends considerable time on the role stress plays in heart disease.

Stress makes us eat obsessively. “When we are under stress we crave food that is high in salt, high in sugar or high in fat,” she said.

The first thing my mother’s cardiologist told us was that we would have to clear my mother’s refrigerator and pantry of processed foods that contain high levels of sodium.

“Salt has long been known to be a major dietary culprit in hypertension. [T]he lifestyle variable with the greatest influence on blood pressure by far is related to how much sodium and potassium is in our diets,” according to Davis.

Of course, these are things I wish I had known before developing the bad habits that are bound to catch up to me down the road.

Still, I welcome this powerful tool.

It’s not too late for my children to teach their own children how to guard their hearts.

I will be conducting a Q&A with the author on from 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 2 in the Celebration Room at the Ray and Joan Kroc Center, 1250 W. 119th St., Chicago. All are welcome.

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