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Populations: Profile

A family tragedy lies behind Aisha Frazier’s determination to make a difference for underserved and ill-served African-American communities.

By Aisha Frazier

My baby brother Michael was a wonderful little boy—energetic, full of life. My mom knew there was something wrong with him. He would say things like, “My heart is beating really fast.” My mom was alarmed. She took him to physicians and tried to find out exactly what was wrong. They told her he had a functional heart murmur that he’d grow out of. They refused to perform more extensive tests.

One morning when I was in high school, my teacher said, “Go home, your brother has been hurt.” No one was home. There was a note. It said, “Michael fell.” When we got to the hospital, a physician came out and said, “He didn’t make it. I’m sorry.”

My mother told me later that Michael had been running very fast to catch his school bus, and tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. A doctor told us that on impact, he hit his chest and he died immediately.

It turns out that he had a very rare heart disease that we weren’t aware of. The physicians who did his autopsy said not only should it have been diagnosed at birth, but it could have been diagnosed with a stethoscope. It was that obvious. And there were treatments and certain things we could have done, but instead his life ended at 9 years old. 

It’s well known that there are a disproportionate number of African Americans who are not given the best kinds of treatment, especially in terms of cardiovascular disease. I don’t know all of the reasons why my brother in particular and other people in general don’t get the care that they need. But we in public health have to find out why these things are happening, and how we can prevent them.