In 1985, Kaiser Permanente researchers asked Wanda Johnson of Oakland if she would like to participate in a new heart study called CARDIA.
At a time when heart research focused primarily on middle-aged white men, CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) was the first major study of heart health to enroll participants who were 18 to 30 years old, black and white, and men and women.
“There were a lot of studies at that time on middle-aged Caucasian men, and to be a young, African-American female — it just seemed interesting,” said Johnson, a nurse practitioner.
“When we step forward with lessons and learnings, and better ways of providing care, we tell the world and the world listens,” Tyson told the study participants and their guests, who gathered at Impact Hub in Oakland for a celebration of their contributions to medical science in late October.
“There are millions of people who are going to be better off because of what you have done collectively, and they can’t come in this room and thank you,” Tyson said. “So I will thank you on their behalf.”
Nine Clinic Visits in 30 Years
In 2015 and 2016, nearly 1,000 participants in CARDIA returned to the research lab at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center for their ninth visit in 30 years. They each spent the day undergoing a battery of tests, including blood pressure, height and weight, an echocardiogram, and diet and lifestyle questionnaires.
Data collected from CARDIA participants in Oakland is pooled with data from participants in three other academic centers around the nation. With funding from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, more than 665 peer-reviewed studies have been published so far, contributing to global understanding of heart disease, cardiac risk factors, and health disparities.
“To me, the most important message from the CARDIA study is that our health behaviors early in life impact enormously on our personal health later in life,” Stephen Sidney, MD, MPH, principal investigator of CARDIA, told the study participants.
Doing What It Takes
Tyson thanked Dr. Sidney and the CARDIA research team, and shared the story of his own heart attack and subsequent recovery 10 years ago. The lesson for him was that “health is critically important. Ever since my heart situation, I have not had a single bad day. For me, every day is beautiful.”
During a question and answer period, study participants joked about some of the tests that CARDIA has asked them complete over the years, such as mind-bending cognitive tests and plunging their arms into buckets of ice cubes prior to having their blood pressure taken.
While the original Kaiser Permanente study participants were all from the East Bay, over the last three decades they have dispersed across California and the United States, as well as 10 countries.
Nonetheless, 75 percent of the original participants returned for the 2015-2016 round of CARDIA tests in Oakland, and many said they will continue to come back for as long as they are needed. Several even flew in for the celebration at their own expense.
“As long as they can obtain some information with my health, I’ll be there,” Johnson said.