Heart and Soul: ‘Empowering and Transforming Lives’

Aurora Health Care, a Milwaukee, Wis., based organization that is part of Advocate Health, is changing lives thanks to a programmatic partnership between Aurora Community Health and Faith and Health Partnerships it began 7 months ago at Tabernacle Community Baptist Church, Milwaukee.

Heart and Soul, a hypertension-prevention program, is helping participants learn how to manage their blood pressure and live healthier lives. Participants attend monthly sessions that include blood pressure screenings, and information on a wide array of topics, including:

  • how spiritual practices, like praying, meditating, being grateful, and reading scripture, can help your heart health.
  • how eating a nutritious diet, cutting down on salt, staying active, and managing medications can keep you healthy.

The program provides participants with monitoring devices to help them track their blood pressure at home. They also can consult with a nurse or nurse practitioner and have their blood pressure checked at Tabernacle again during the month.

The Rev. Donna Childs, senior pastor at Tabernacle, says the Heart and Soul Program fits right in with the congregation’s mission: “to empower and transform lives through the Word of God and ministries.”

“The program provides tools to transform lives,” she said. “If you know you are getting your blood pressure under control by managing stress, eating better, and monitoring your blood pressure, that can bring confidence. And that, too, can lower your blood pressure.”

“As a pastor I want to take care of my members — their body, mind, soul, and emotions — however I can,” she added. “Hypertension is a silent killer in our community; so, if I can give my members tools to help them live well and live out their purpose, that’s a win-win for everyone.”

A Safe Place to Share and Learn

“I was pleasantly surprised by the way people engaged in the Heart and Soul program and asked questions — even personal ones,” said Rev. Childs. “[Heart and Soul team members] made it a safe space to share. Participants shared more in this space than they probably would have ordinarily.”

“People find their voice when they feel at home,” said Carolyn McCarthy, family nurse practitioner with Aurora Health Care, who led the cardiovascular wellness sessions for the program. “The program shifts the balance of power. When you come into a doctor’s office, the health care provider drives the visit. Through this program, we’re on someone else’s ground.”

“That’s what I think is important about being here — we can be less comfortable as the health care providers and let someone else feel like they are taking the lead, setting the agenda, and being more comfortable in saying what they want to say.”

Reducing Blood Pressure in a Holistic Way

“We understand you can’t only provide someone with a blood pressure cuff to help them control their blood pressure,” said Anya Gordon, Manager of Faith and Health Partnerships with Aurora Health Care, who led the spiritual practice sessions for the program.

“You need to talk about health from a holistic standpoint to reduce blood pressure by caring for body, mind, and spirit — all the things that make up a person and who they are as a human being.”

For example, participants learned about holistic ways to alleviate chronic stress, a major contributor to hypertension, by eating healthier foods, resting, keeping a gratitude journal, exercising, praying, and incorporating other spiritual practices. Over the past seven months, Gordon has enjoyed hearing from participants on how the spiritual practices benefited them. “It made me proud of the work we were doing and that people were becoming better managers of their health,” she said.

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