American Heart Association volunteer takes action for his community

Even though heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, not everyone has the same access to health care or information.

For more than 90 years, the American Heart Association has provided resources through education and outreach. One of their Puget Sound volunteers, Raj Sidhu, inspired life-changing actions at his religious congregation.

For 38-year-old Sidhu, educating the Indian community on cardiovascular health is a mission that’s deeply personal.

“I’m starting to see uncles, aunts, folks affected by heart disease, and these are people. Some of these that are folks that I’ve lost. I just feel like it was unnecessary,” said Sidhu.

Four years ago, Sidhu started volunteering with the American Heart Association of Puget Sound to raise awareness for heart disease risk factors and preventive measures. In 2019, he launched a blood pressure program with the organization at his Sikh temple in Renton that serves more than 50,000 people in the area.

“I am an immigrant. I obviously came to this country at a very young age, and a lot of immigrants just don’t have the resources,” said Sidhu.

Over a four-month period, congregation members had their blood pressure checked before or after service. Just a few weeks into the “Check, Change, Control” program, 80% of participants were found to have high blood pressure, putting them at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

“Being of Indian descent, and all of this is hereditary, and the fact that our diet doesn’t help. The fact that the priest, the leadership management participated from the temple, and they also were a part of the ‘high blood pressure’ club, so definitely got the ball rolling in the right direction,” said Sidhu.

High blood pressure is often called the silent killer because the symptoms can be misunderstood or overlooked. This alarming number motivated Sidhu to jump into action, as he was concerned so many members were unaware they had high blood pressure. Sidhu worked with the management to make changes, including promoting a healthier diet. And this is precisely the kind of community outreach the American Heart Association relies on to save lives.

“Incredible. Raj was able to connect us to so many people in such a community that those resources are really needed. And so being able to work with exceptional volunteers like Raj, it really expands it in a really big way,” said Shelli Kind, executive director at American Heart Association of Puget Sound.

The pandemic halted Sidhu’s plans to implement this program in more Sikh temples, but he remains focused on the cause. He hopes to inspire others to work together to improve the health of friends, loved ones and neighbors.

“If someone had done that to one of my aunts and uncles that I’ve lost, I feel like I would still have them in my life, and they would have enjoyed a more fuller life. That’s really what drives me,” said Sidhu.

The American Heart Association warns high blood pressure might raise a person’s risk of experiencing severe complications from the coronavirus. So it is now more important than ever to monitor levels. For more information, you can visit its website: https://www.heart.org/en/affiliates/washington/puget-sound.