stories from volunteers

picture of paul covington
Paul Covington (right) with Dr. Herman Taylor, professor of medicine and principal investigator for the Jackson (Miss.) Health Study
Name: Paul Covington
Home State: Mississippi

He has been participating in medical research for 20 years.

Why? To learn more about his health status as it relates to high blood pressure and heart disease and to help his family and others learn about preventative measures for these illnesses.

Covington’s story
: Covington coached basketball for 30 years before retiring from Jackson State University. He knew he hadn’t always followed a healthy diet even though he was quite active. Wrong food choices and late-night meals were the sources of concern. He volunteered to participate in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study initially in the 1980s and is still a part of that research at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s only health sciences campus. When the Jackson Heart Study (JHS) began recruiting volunteers, they invited participants in the ARIC study to join. Covington answered the call.

"At first, I did it for selfish reasons. I had been coaching so long, I thought maybe getting in the program would help me find out if I had done any damage to my body," he said. "After thinking about all of it, I found out in the long run this will help a lot of people. So what started out to be selfish will end up helping others."

The JHS is the largest study of cardiovascular disease in African–Americans ever undertaken. The landmark study is a federally funded partnership among Jackson State University, Tougaloo College and the University of Mississippi Medical Center that is assisting researchers in finding out why African–Americans, particularly those who live in Mississippi, have a higher rate of death from cardiovascular disease than any other group. The partnership is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health.

Widespread community involvement has contributed to the JHS attracting 97 percent of its participation goal. Of the 6,193 African–Americans initially interviewed for the study, 5,307 of the 5,500 desired completed the required clinic visit.

Interview components of the study included demographic information; health history; sociocultural information, including racism, discrimination, socioeconomic status, religion and stress; medication–use history; smoking–and alcohol-use history; nutrition; physical activity; height; weight; and body size. The clinical exam component included blood pressure, electrocardiogram, carotid ultrasound, pulmonary function test, venipuncture and 24–hour spot–urine collection.

The JHS cohort is 64 percent women and 36 percent men. The average age of the cohort is approximately 55. Approximately 69 percent of the JHS participants have high blood pressure; however, approximately a third have uncontrolled blood pressure. Covington, whose father had died of a heart attack, discovered he has moderately high blood pressure, and the JHS researchers work with his physician to keep it under control.

"This study makes you aware of where you are in your health. It has broadened my views about medicines and diseases, especially heart diseases," said Covington, a grandfather of four. "We don't get enough early education. Hopefully, what they learn from this study will help young people." (by Patrice Sawyer Guilfoyle at the University of Mississippi Medical Center).

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