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Pauley Heart Center expands prevention programs in the classroom

A hypertension awareness program outfits students with lifesaving information to educate family members in Richmond and Hopewell.

Female doctor sits at a table with a female student in a classroom, teaching her about blood pressure with a 3D diagram of a heart. Sangeeta Shah, M.D., a VCU Health Pauley Heart Center cardiologist who brought the Teach BP concept to VCU Health Pauley Heart Center, works with a Hopewell elementary school student Gi-Shiya Broggin in April as part of Pauley’s Teach BP program. (MCV Foundation)

By MCV Foundation

This past school year, Melody Hackney, Ed.D., watched something happening in Hopewell City Public Schools that she believes could save lives across generations in the city.

As superintendent of the school system, she has been an advocate and organizer for the impactful program she now sees making a difference in her schools — Teach BP. A VCU Health Pauley Heart Center program, Teach BP launched in 2022 in Richmond’s East End as a way to reach multigenerational populations with lifesaving information about hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. The program outfits students with information to educate family members and become changemakers in their communities.

Teach BP has operated in Richmond, and this year, the program expanded to Hopewell.

“What’s unique about this program and why we’re so grateful to the Pauley Heart Center is that our kids become the teachers,” Hackney said. “They’re taking that home to their grandparents, their dads, their moms, and playing an active role in improving their health.”

High blood pressure and cardiovascular events are prevalent in the two communities where life expectancy is significantly lower than neighboring areas — sometimes by as much as 20 years. Hopewell’s leading cause of death is heart disease, a condition that most often starts with hypertension.

Reaching out to these communities in unique ways and putting clinical resources in place to prevent cardiovascular disease is a key piece of Pauley Heart Center’s mission.

“We’re the flagship for the state of Virginia for dealing with complex health issues — our team members are outstanding at taking care of that heart attack and helping to prevent the next one,” said Greg Hundley, M.D., director of Pauley Heart Center and the George W. Vetrovec Chair of the Division of Cardiology. “But what we also place an emphasis on is primary prevention. Can we prevent heart attacks, strokes and heart failure? We want to address problems before they require hospitalization.”

In addition to Teach BP, Pauley Heart Center has invested in prevention by hiring a director of cardiovascular disease prevention. Anurag Mehta, M.D., serves in that role, bringing great knowledge to the center on how to identify who is most at risk for having a future cardiovascular event and implementing the most modern therapies. He provides individualized prescriptions to each patient’s unique constellation of risk factors, ranging from medications to diet and exercise.

A lifelong dedication to treating congenital heart defects. Meet the provider behind the Teach BP program.

Prevention programs like those that Pauley are providing for the community are made stronger and more impactful by help from supporters who understand the needs that exist.

“We’re most grateful to those who contribute philanthropically,” Hundley said. “Without that support, we would not be able to realize the potential in addressing cardiovascular disease.”

To impact entire communities, it’s important to communicate with and educate as many age groups and demographics as possible – and then encourage them to share their knowledge with one another. From the clinic to the school system, Pauley Heart Center is doing just that.

“Everybody wants their family to be healthier, live longer and be with us for more of our lives,” Hackney said. “And I really believe, that one child at a time, providing influence in their family, will literally change our city.”