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Payne Jr. uses examples from his own life to illustrate that #BlackHealthMatters

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. knows firsthand that awareness of proper health care can make a difference.-(AARON HOUSTON)

Health care needs are different for everyone, but there are certain traits that disproportionately affect certain ethnic populations.For African-Americans who live in the lower socioeconomic strata, the predispositions are agitated by lack of health care education, according to U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr.

Speaking at a Black History Month event at Clara Maass Medical Center in February, Payne highlighted his personal experiences through the U.S. health care system, expressed his support for the Affordable Care Act and discussed his efforts to raise more awareness for proper health care.

African-Americans lag behind in numerous health care areas, including access to quality health care, timeliness of care and health outcomes, Payne said. Disparities have devastating impacts on individuals and families, but also on communities and society.

Piggybacking off of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a new, small movement has been spotted on social media: #BlackHealthMatters.

“I’m a fairly educated guy,” Payne said, adding that he was chairman of the men’s health caucus. “What I realized … is that, in my community, in many communities, people that don’t have the health care, and don’t have the education I’ve had, around their disease, are perishing.”

Using the examples of himself and his father, former Congressman Donald Payne Sr., who died from colorectal cancer, Payne said he hopes to raise greater awareness on health education.

“I am a person that has not really kept up with health very well. It is beginning, over the last year, to manifest itself. I am a 20-year noncompliant diabetic,” Payne said at Clara Maass.

“If you would’ve run into me a year ago … you would’ve seen me walking around with a bottle of orange Mountain Dew, and it very well could have been my second or third one that day. I used it in place of coffee for caffeine, because I don’t like hot drinks, so I would drink Mountain Dew on a consistent basis,” Payne said, adding it was a habit he had developed over the last 10 years.

“In spite of what doctors have told me over the course of that time, I continued to do that, and now the reckoning days are here.”

Payne said he contracted a foot infection on Valentine’s Day last year. Days after being discharged, he realized something wasn’t right and went back to see a doctor. It turned out the infection had spread to pockets all over his foot and was complicating the healing process.

He struggled with the wound for almost a full year, before it closed only a month or so before his visit to Clara Maass.

“I have great health care. I will not deny it. My doctors are all Naval doctors, and they rotate out of the Navy into the U.S. House of Representatives to help us,” Payne said. “That’s why, when the doc said to me, ‘Sir, we are going to do everything we can to save your foot,’ I’m concerned about the guy my age that shows up in an emergency room on a Saturday night and it’s too late for someone to say that to him and they say ’Your foot has to come off.’”

“That’s why I’m fighting in Congress now. Because there is nothing special about me that every American should not have the health care they deserve, the education to know what it means in their lives.”

After losing his father to colorectal cancer, which could have been cured if detected earlier, Payne said he has been actively advocating to erase the stigma of colonoscopies in the African-American community.

“For men in his age group, there is a stigma towards colonoscopies,” Payne said, adding that the idea of colonoscopy is taboo and men of his father’s generation recoiled at the idea.

“I talk about my colonoscopies openly now. I tell (people) the preparation is the worst part but the actual procedure is ‘You go to sleep, wake up and they give you apple juice and crackers,’” Payne said. “Thank goodness there is progress for detection of colon cancer, (doctors can use) stool samples now versus a colonoscopy.”

Anjalee Khemlani

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