Beating hearts: Lightfoot, Howard Baptiste spread the word about heart health

Shewanee Howard-Baptiste, left, and Stacy Lightfoot. Photo by Angela Foster.

By Chuck Wasserstrom

Helping the American Heart Association is personal to Stacy Lightfoot.

Lightfoot, vice chancellor for Diversity and Engagement at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, was only a month into her job at UTC when her 45-year-old sister, Charla Monique Goodwin, was rushed to the hospital.

“She was in heart failure and we had no idea,” Lightfoot recalled of the summer 2021 episode. “We had no clue how bad her health was, but her body functions were shutting down by the time we got her to the emergency room.

“That is why I said ‘yes’ when I was asked to chair the Go Red fundraiser; it’s personal. It’s also a way to bring and build awareness to the Chattanooga community about how devastating and common heart disease is and how to prevent it.”

These days, Goodwin is doing well–under cardiologist care, her heart is functioning close to its full capacity–and Lightfoot is serving as the co-chair for the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Chattanooga Go Red for Women fundraiser, which takes place on May 19 at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Another high-ranking member of the UTC family, Vice Provost for Academic Outreach Shewanee Howard-Baptiste, is a member of the Chattanooga chapter’s board of directors–serving as AHA Leadership Development chair.

With February being American Heart Month, Lightfoot and Howard-Baptiste have been spreading the word to increase awareness of heart and cardiovascular disease and how to prevent it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 700,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year. The CDC said that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the country.

“I want our campus to demonstrate how we can support heart health,” said Howard-Baptiste, who is looking to bring free, no-hands CPR training to UTC. “Our campus is tobacco-free. We have the Center for Wellbeing and different initiatives on campus supporting physical and mental health. Getting trained in no-hands CPR–or at least seeing the demonstration–can help save people’s lives.”

Howard-Baptiste’s background is in public health. As interim director of the UTC Master of Public Health program, she had direct connections to numerous community partners, including the AHA.

When she was invited to join the organization’s board of directors in 2020, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I have encouraged them to have MPH students serve on the board as well,” Howard-Baptiste said, “so that our students are active in the community.”

Lightfoot, who is co-chairing the fundraiser with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Dalya Qualls White, said it is vital to share the work of the AHA with the UTC campus “because heart disease affects people of all ages.”

According to the AHA website, “Since 2004, the Go Red for Women movement has educated millions of women about their No. 1 killer: cardiovascular disease. But now we face a new challenge; research shows that younger women and women of color are not aware that this threat is real.”

Lightfoot shared that next year’s Go Red chair, 37-year-old Channing Muller, suffered two heart attacks at 26.

“It’s critically important to get this information into the hands of college students,” she said. “We don’t want young people on campus to think that this is only an old folks’ disease that affects their parents or grandparents. It is something that we can start preventing now with better awareness.”

Lightfoot is more than happy to talk about her sister’s stress-related heart condition and recovery, especially since Goodwin will be the honoree at the May event. “This is the first time that the honoree has been connected to the chair of the committee, so it’s even more personal to me,” Lightfoot said. “The American Heart Association will be able to tell her story.”