Former ROTC student battles with high blood pressure

The doctor wouldn’t let Kevicia Brown leave the office.

After a series of unusual migraines that she described as a hammer pounding in the front of her head, Brown scheduled a checkup.

Brown, a recent Florida A&M occupational wellness graduate and former Army ROTC cadet from Jacksonville native, remembered the doctor saying her blood pressure was extremely high.

“I’d just finished running six miles,” Brown said. “I thought to myself, ‘Why does it matter that I eat healthy and work out?’ “

Despite the efforts to eat healthy and work out daily, Brown inherited her parents’ high blood pressure, a disease that affects 40 percent of African-Americans in the United States, according to the American Heart Association.

Harvard’s Medical School Special Health Report labels the disease that shows little to no symptoms as the “silent killer.”

Growing up, Brown’s parents never showed any signs of the disease. They cooked traditional meals like alpha sprouts, grilled pineapple chicken and mango brown rice, only breaking their healthy eating habits during the holidays.

Maria Smit, a physician assistant at Capital Region Medical Center, said more than half of the patients she sees on average have high blood pressure.

“For most, it’s diet and exercise that’s key to narrowing your chances of having high blood pressure,” Smit said. “However, the age range is widening.”

The doctor diagnosed Brown with stage 2 hypertension, the most critical phase of high blood pressure.

“The medication will help control her blood pressure and relax her blood vessels,” Smit said. “She should visit the doctor regularly and do not stop taking the medicine until she’s instructed to do so.”

Smit also said that because Brown is in her mid-20s, she could overcome the critical phase faster if she does everything her doctor instructs her to do.

The doctor ordered Brown to stop working out for a month. She wasn’t allowed to lift any weights or participate in any strenuous activities.

“I began taking a pill called amlodipine, a medication the doctor told me would help lower my blood pressure,” Brown said. “I wondered, ‘How will they wean me off of something that’s helping me?’ “

Researchers found that African-Americans may be predisposed to high blood pressure and there may be a gene that makes them more vulnerable to salt, according to the American Heart Association.

To make sure she stays healthy, Brown eats raw oatmeal sweetened with honey, egg whites and fruit for breakfast. Her lunch might be a spinach salad with turkey, strawberries and a no-sodium sesame ginger dressing. For dinner, she eats fish with fresh vegetables like squash, starch-free brown rice or a sweet potato and a fruit.

Brown’s father, Victor Brown, had high blood pressure for several years before he told Kevicia about it. He also takes amlodipine. Although he doesn’t work out like Kevicia, he is careful about what he eats and takes his medicine as instructed.

“I never told Kevicia about my high blood pressure because I didn’t want her to worry,” Victor said. “Now that we know that she has been affected by it, I know she’ll do everything to take care of it.”

During a 10 p.m. workout session at the Villa San Michele gym, Brown put on her weightlifting gloves. Her muscular arms flexed as she lifted two 15-pound barbells and squatted down as her legs shaped her Nike running tights. After an hour of working out, she stopped to get on the treadmill.

“I love working out,” Brown said. “But when the doctor ordered me to not work out, I knew I was still going to do some sort of fitness. I just wouldn’t lift weights or run real hard.”

Since Brown’s diagnosis, she’s made an extra effort to keep her and her parents away from other potential health risks. She is now doing much better and her health has improved, but she continues to take her medication, and the intensity of the migraines has subsided.