Thelma Hill is committed to a healthy lifestyle.

“They told me I had rheumatic fever and, as a result, a valve in my heart was leaking. But they had told me that I would need surgery at some point,” Hill said.

At age 42, Hill had open-heart surgery. She is marking 25 years of survival since then by giving back to the American Heart Association.

Having already raised more than $75,000 for the organization, she wants to raise awareness about the racial disparities in heart disease across the country. The AHA says 80% of heart disease is preventable, but it starts with a good diet, which isn’t always accessible.

“Healthy food [is not] available to the Black community because of where they live, or the food is not in the stores so that they can purchase it. Yeah, healthy food exists, but if you have to go miles and miles to get it …,” Hill said.

According to data released last year by the AHA, about 60% of Black men over the age of 20 have cardiovascular disease. The Department of Health and Human Services said that, in 2018, African Americans were 30% more likely to die from heart disease than whites.

Thelma’s a member of the Macedonia Baptist Church, and works with her pastor Michael Aaron Poindexter, who sits on the board of the American Heart Association.

“At one point of time in my life, I myself had heart problems, which have been rectified. And my mother is a stroke survivor,” Poindexter said.

He adds that one reason communities of color are disproportionately impacted by heart disease is due to the systemic obstacles surrounding access to health care.

“It’s not just about placing a hospital in a community, but what’s the quality of that hospital? What’s the quality of the health care and the health care education that a person receives?” Poindexter said. “And so, yeah, there is a lack of access, too, but there are more factors to the disparities that we see in our communities.”

The church holds what it calls “power Sundays,” which include free blood pressure readings for community members.