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Phylicia Rashad: A Campaign Close to My Heart

Known to television audiences for her role as one of America's most beloved mothers, "Clair Huxtable" on The Cosby Show, Phylicia Rashad is also a talented director, Broadway actress and film star. Ms. Rashad is currently starring on Broadway in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". Other Broadway credits include Gem of the Ocean, Raisin in the Sun (2004 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play/Drama Desk Award), Blue, Jelly's Last Jam, Into The Woods, Dreamgirls, The Wiz and Ain't Supposed To Die A Natural Death. Film credits include Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored, Free of Eden, Loving Jezebel, and The Visit.

To most people, I'm one of one of America's most easily recognizable TV moms, Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show. Now I'm taking on a new leading role to raise awareness of Peripheral Artery Disease (P.A.D.), a condition that affects about 8 million Americans, and puts them at more than twice the risk of heart attack or stroke and more than four times the risk of dying from heart disease.

In recognition of the first National P.A.D. Awareness Month, I am sharing my family history, and together with the Bristol-Myers Squibb/Sanofi Pharmaceuticals Partnership and in collaboration with the P.A.D. Coalition, helping to launch the P.A.D: Make the Connection: Know Your Risks from Legs to Heart to Brain public action campaign in the hope that other families will avoid the losses my family has endured.

Most people are unaware of P.A.D. and the risks associated with it, according to the P.A.D. Coalition. This campaign aims to educate people about the risk factors for P.A.D., help them identify if they or a loved one are at risk for P.A.D. and motivate those at risk to speak with their doctors about getting tested. People can find more information about P.A.D., including risk factors and symptoms, at www.PADFacts.org.

My New Role Is Close to My Heart

Eight of my family members, including my father and grandparents, died of a heart attack or stroke. Each of those family members had lived with some of the common risk factors for P.A.D., which include: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and a family history of heart attack or stroke.

When P.A.D. was brought to my attention, I reflected on my family members who had risk factors for P.A.D. and were never tested. I realized that like my own family, millions of people are not aware of P.A.D. and the risks associated with it. However, we are fortunate that great strides in medical research have revealed the correlation between different diseases and how one can put you at risk for another. I want people to benefit from these findings by learning what P.A.D. is and how it can impact their health.

P.A.D. is a chronic condition in which a person has poor circulation in the legs that can lead to serious cardiovascular events. In fact, P.A.D. can be a warning sign that arteries, including those carrying blood to the heart and brain, may be blocked, increasing a person's risk of heart attack and stroke.

The chairman of the P.A.D. Coalition, Alan T. Hirsch, M.D., says, "The lack of P.A.D. awareness is profound and has had a detrimental effect on the health of Americans." Dr. Hirsch, who is also Professor of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and Director of the Vascular Medicine Program at the Minneapolis Heart Institute, says, "P.A.D. affects not only the people with the disease but their family members as well. By raising awareness of P.A.D., we empower each individual and their loved ones to talk to their doctor before the disease becomes an emergency."

P.A.D. is a silent disease. Some patients experience pain or discomfort in the buttocks, thighs or calves, symptoms typically felt when the disease has progressed. However, patients often don't know they have P.A.D. because they don't experience symptoms. About one in three patients with P.A.D. actually feels pain or heaviness in the feet or legs that goes away with rest. By that time, their arteries may be so clogged or hardened that they are not getting enough oxygen to supply their leg muscles. Others ignore their symptoms because they believe them to be a natural part of aging.

Says Dr. Emile Mohler, director of vascular medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, "Testing for P.A.D. is simple and painless and is performed right in the doctor's office. Once a patient is diagnosed with P.A.D., their risk of heart attack and stroke can be reduced through lifestyle changes and treatments. Increased diagnosis and treatment could significantly reduce the number of these risks." Alarmingly, despite these risks, P.A.D. is often under-diagnosed and under-treated.

The P.A.D: Make the Connection public action campaign will bring my message to people from coast to coast through a year-long series of events. The first event targeted policy makers as I joined the P.A.D. Coalition at a Congressional Briefing in September 2007. With the P.A.D. Coalition, I spoke to Congressional leaders about the need for increased screening so patients who are diagnosed can discuss treatment options and lifestyle changes to reduce the risks associated with the disease with their doctors.

It's not okay to take a wait-and-see approach to your health. In fact, I recently had my first test for P.A.D. If you or a loved one is at risk for P.A.D., I urge you to take action and talk to your doctor.

For nearly a decade, I have been a dedicated educational health advocate working to increase awareness of cardiovascular diseases to improve patients' quality of life. I am urging people to visit www.PADFacts.org for more information on P.A.D. diagnosis, disease management and treatments.

Created: 4/6/2008  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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