Queen Latifah is a woman of many talents and gifts. Whether it was being a hip-hop pioneer or talk show host or film (Girls Trip) and television star (Fox's Star), Latifah has definitely mastered the art of driving in many lanes. However, Latifah's most recent venture is much more personal: raising awareness around heart failure, and how to prevent it and maintain care when diagnosed.
According to Rise Above Heart Failure, roughly 6.5 million Americans have heart failure (HF) and it is predicted that over 8 million Americans will have heart failure by 2030. Ever since Queen Latifah's mother was diagnosed, the debilitating issue became closer to home and she has made it her mission to increase awareness by incorporating a cool program entitled, "What The HF?," an IQ test designed to rate our knowledge of HF's signs and symptoms. Her impassioned work has earned her the Women of Distinction Award at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions.
I chatted with Queen to discuss her introduction to Rise Above Heart Failure, how she uses her significant platform to create awareness, her relationship with her mother post-diagnosis, how she manages her own health and the advice she has for the black community given our unique relationship with heart disease.
Blavity: Congrats on the Women of Distinction Award! I know you have a very personal connection to heart disease awareness when you and your family became aware of your mother’s heart failure diagnosis. How did you get involved with Novartis’ Rise Above Heart Failure?
Queen Latifah: Thank you! [Novartis] came to me after hearing about my mom’s story — I believe they saw me talk about it on my talk show and they wanted us to get together to get the word out about heart failure. So, I asked my mom if she’d be interested in doing it as it’s something that’s very personal to her and our family. And my mom is one to get very excited about educating people on heart failure, what it is, what it can do to you and what they can do to prevent it. It’s been a great relationship.
B: In what unique ways are you using your huge platform to raise awareness?
QL: Well, I think the fact that it’s a personal thing for me. [Heart failure] is not something that is foreign to me. So, I can relate to the many adjustments that we’ve had to make in our lives since my mom has been diagnosed as well as being a caregiver along with my family members. Our lives have changed so much, but we’re hopeful as well and I think that personal connection makes it better to relate to people.
B: Diving into that — can you describe your relationship with your mother post-diagnosis and how you are assisting in her management?
QL: Post-diagnosis … we all tightened up. I think we all decided as a family that it was something that we would all do together. My mom and I were always close, but we’re really close now because I’m able to really be right there for her during these trials. It’s also changed the way we eat — that was the first thing that changed — our diet. We changed the way we prepared foods, we became more educated about my mom’s health and what we could do to make it better. We really kept an eye on things and thoroughly communicated with the doctors and nurses and created a support system around my mom. We just communicate a lot more frequently now. We try to give each other breaks when we can because I truly understand how it is to be able to take care of a family member who is dealing with heart failure and the challenges that come with that. So I’ve been reaching out to the caregiving community like, “Hey, I understand. You can take breaks when you can and take of yourself as well.”
B: Of course we’ve heard the tragic statistics in how heart disease affects the black community. What specific advice do you have for the black community when it comes to awareness and prevention?
QL: Number one, you have to go to your doctor. You have to get regular checkups. And you have to ask questions. You should be a participant in your own healthcare. Sometimes we get used to just sucking it up and taking it on, but you don’t have to do that. Let the doctor know how you’re feeling. And just become more educated about it! We have this “What The HF?” quiz that can give you an idea on whether you’re dealing with heart failure. It’s something you can share with other family members and who you know. I was aware because I had friends with family members that suffered from heart failure, but of course, I became more informed once it was my own mom. And we can help each other out! I know a lot of us have that habit of putting salt on food before we even taste it and that’s one of the things that we have to break ourselves out of. And it’s possible! Now our taste buds have become tuned to not enjoy salty foods.
B: In what ways are you making sure to stay on top of your own health?
QL: Eating vegetables and getting plenty of exercise — that’s always the goal! For example, since my mom has to decrease her salt intake, we’re not going to just cook for my mother and not the whole family. It changed the way we enjoy foods and it’s something that you gradually get used to. It’s not something that’s overnight.
B: That’s so important. Can you touch on a bit on how accessible things like “What The HF?” are since so many people are intimidated by going to the doctor or learning their health status?
QL: Knowledge is power. Just being afraid of something and not doing anything about it is not going to make it go away. The quicker you become aware and informed about something, the more power you have to do something about it. Go to RiseAboveHF.org, find out about the signs and symptoms and just share it — it’s pretty simple! Like, my mom she was always sleepy and fatigued no matter how much rest she got! And I didn’t recognize the signs at the time. I knew something was different as she became more irritable and exhausted, but I just thought she was simply working too much. But, then she passed out one day and was rushed to the hospital. Then, the diagnosis came and it all came together.
B: Thank you so much, Queen, for chatting with us and your continued work to raise awareness about this! Any parting words? What else do you want us to know about “What The HF?”
QL: “What The HF?” is really about empowerment. Knowing those signs and symptoms and how to prevent it. It’s also about giving support as a caregiver to someone who is living with heart failure. The more we know, the more able we are to take control of our health and our future. I just encourage everyone to be encouraged and be empowered.
Rise Above Heart Failure is nationally supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. For additional information, including taking the "What the HF?" IQ test, please visit www.RiseAboveHF.org.
This interview has been edited and condensed.