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Brock researchers work to deliver Indigenous heart-health information

'We need to educate our people on heart disease because it is pretty rampant in Indigenous communities,' says research assistant
Brock research assistant and PhD student Michelle Bomberry (left) and associate professor of Nursing Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy are working with Six Nations to develop, design and deliver heart health informational resources based on Indigenous ways of knowing

In the weeks leading up to a heart attack, most people experience classic symptoms that if recognized and treated, can prevent the attack from happening.

While this and other heart-health information is readily accessible to the public, that is not the case in many Indigenous communities, says a Brock University research team.

“We need to educate our people on heart disease because it is pretty rampant in Indigenous communities,” says Michelle Bomberry, research assistant in the Heart Innovation Research Program and current PhD student at Brock University.

“With all the literature and educational resources out there, something is still missing,” she says. “We’re trying to find out how to get the message across; it’s a paradigm shift that we need to do with our entire community.”

Bomberry, who is Haudenosaunee, has teamed up with associate professor of Nursing Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy on their research project Early Warning Signs of Heart Disease: An Indigenous Research Creation.

Although the duo has participated in a few conversations with participants at Six Nations, and off reserve, they are still looking for Indigenous women and men over the age of 18 years who have been diagnosed with heart disease and are connected with the Indigenous community within Six Nations and in the general Niagara area.

Contact [email protected] or [email protected] for more information on how to get involved.

Funded by Brock University’s Indigenous Research Grant, Bomberry and O’Keefe-McCarthy are working with Six Nations to develop, design and deliver heart health informational resources based on Indigenous ways of knowing.

The educational materials focus on describing early warning signs of heart disease, called ‘prodromal symptoms,’ as well as acute signs of severe heart disease.

Symptoms, the presence and intensity of which may vary in men and women, include pain or discomfort in the chest, arm, jaw, back or shoulder, unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, heartburn, tingling in the arms or hands, sleep disturbance, dizziness, anxiety and headaches.

O’Keefe-McCarthy says the research is focused on how prodromal symptoms are experienced and described by Indigenous women and men with heart disease.

“Sometimes clinicians’ words are not sufficient and not the words used by an Indigenous person experiencing symptoms related to cardiac pain,” she says. “It’s important for people to help us understand what their experiences are like and help us ask questions that we don’t know that we need to ask because it’s not our information, it’s theirs to share.”

The creation of educational materials will take an arts-based approach that could include information being conveyed through painting, sculpting, poetry, music, drumming, dance and other means in addition to, or instead of, the written word, the researchers say.

Bomberry says the balancing of Western scientific research methods with Indigenous ways of knowing and being provides a model of effective holistic inquiry.

“Our research project is going to be an example of how the community is working with the University to hear the truths of Indigenous Peoples and have community develop the promotional and educational ways to communicate this Indigenous heart-health knowledge,” she says.

This latest research builds on O’Keefe-McCarthy’s long-running work to educate the public about the early symptoms of heart disease and the use of art to understand what it’s like to live with heart disease.

“The arts-based approach bridges the art-science divide so that people can recognize the information in a way that’s meaningful to them,” says O’Keefe-McCarthy.

She says this is particularly important for First Nations Peoples, who are three times more likely to develop heart and vascular diseases, such as diabetes, compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Indigenous Peoples have higher rates of heart attacks, angina, heart-related disability and death compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts, she says.

“This is why this research is so important,” says O’Keefe-McCarthy. “The knowledge gained in our conversations with Indigenous Peoples who have experienced heart disease is vital to create educational materials that connect with an Indigenous way of knowing, doing and being.”