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It is hard to find an African-American whose life has not been touched by heart disease. Disproportionately more African-American men and women die from cardiovascular disease than do white Americans. Yet most African-Americans are painfully unaware of the far-reaching scope of the problem.

Is racism at the root of this American health crisis? The Angry Heart meets this provocative question head on. Told through the personal story of Keith Hartgrove, a 45-year-old resident of Roxbury, Massachusetts, the documentary chronicles one man's dramatic recovery from quadruple by-pass surgery. Navigating a sometimes indifferent, often overwhelming, health-care system, Keith manages to rebuild his life with the help and support of family, community, and church. His daily struggle against enormous odds is interwoven with compelling commentary by physicians, researchers and public health experts.

The Angry Heart is a groundbreaking video documentary on the devastating ongoing impact of heart disease and racism on African-Americans in this country. Its creators hope that a grassroots effort, including screenings to African-American groups and medical professionals, will promote meaningful dialogue that examines the causes of this racial disparity and identifies ways to change it.




At the age of 38, Keith Hartgrove, African-American father of four, churchgoer, vegetarian, lifelong resident of Roxbury, Massachusetts, had his first heart attack. Seven years later he suffered a second massive heart attack, resulting in emergency quadruple bypass surgery. He was 45 years old.

How did this happen?

According to experts, stress, hostility, depression, social isolation and low socioeconomic status have all been identified as risk factors for the development of heart disease. Strongly rooted in racism, these risk factors are also linked with increased chance of developing other self-destructive behaviors such as smoking, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.

Death rates from cardiovascular disease in the United States are 49.4% higher for black men and 67.2% higher for black women than their white counterparts, according to National Center for Health Statistics and the American Heart Association. Studies show that even when both races are given the same medical treatment, African-Americans have a significantly higher risk of suffering a second heart attack than do white Americans.

In the case of Keith, the help of friends, family, his church and a few concerned doctors, helped him survive. But many other African Americans are not so lucky.

Urgency is growing among religious leaders, health care professionals and concerned community advocates alike as they recognize the impact of heart disease within their own communities. All of them express an urgent need to get this message out: Racism is killing people.

Documentary filmmaker, Jay Fedigan, developed a personal interest in this volatile issue when he witnessed first hand the racist treatment inflicted on his friend and co-worker. As a white American, Jay was not subject to the same disrespect as his friend, a talented cameraman whom he'd known and worked with for many years. Thus began a dialogue about race that added an entirely new dimension to both their working relationship and their friendship. When Keith suffered his second near fatal heart attack, Jay decided it was time to tell Keith's story.

The artistic goal of telling one individual's story soon expanded to include an educational goal as well: to open an honest dialogue about the impact of racism on heart disease among African-Americans. Interweaving interviews with doctors, medical researchers, scholars, and members of Keith's family and community, the video confirms that Keith's experience is typical among African-Americans.

With the honesty and optimism that has been key to his survival, Keith Hartgrove shares his experience as an African American living with heart disease. He tells of the sometimes angering, sometimes life-saving interactions with medical staff, the much-needed spiritual support he receives from his church and how heart disease prevents him from being the parent he wants to be. By talking so candidly about racism and how deeply it affects the spirit of African-Americans, the deadly connection between racism and heart disease becomes painfully clear. The need for ongoing dialogue is even clearer.

The Angry Heart is a crucial part of that dialogue.

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