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SLUCare Physician Connects Area Bosnian Population with Cardiac Care

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
Media Relations Specialist

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A new project spearheaded by a Saint Louis University cardiac surgeon is aiming to connect an underserved population with health care services in the St. Louis region.

Dawn Hui, M.D., received a grant from the Greater Saint Louis Health Foundation to educate and screen the local Bosnian population for cardiovascular disease. St. Louis is home to the largest Bosnian population outside of Bosnia.

Bosnian Heart Clinic

Dawn Hui, M.D., poses with the team of volunteers - including physicians, students from the School of Medicine and Nutrition and Dietetics department, Saint Louis University Hospital staff, translators and medical professionals of Bosnian descent - assisting with a free Bosnian heart health event Sunday. Photo by Maggie Rotermund.

 "There are a lot of risk factors tied to this population," Hui explained. "Smoking is prevalent in their culture and the Bosnian diet can be high in salt and fat."

The screenings provide a heart health checkup for patients, including a body mass index (BMI) check, lipid and glucose screenings and an EKG.

They are open to anyone of Bosnian descent.

The first large scale screening was held Sunday, Aug. 16, at Grbic Restaurant in south St. Louis.

Hui, an assistant professor of surgery at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and a SLUCare cardiac surgeon at the Center for Comprehensive Cardiovascular Care (C4), said she was inspired to find ways to connect this group with health care after learning about a friend's father's health issues and his difficulty accessing care.

"There are a lot of barriers there," she said. "That can include the basic language barrier, as well as cultural norms which dictate a certain stoicism and reluctance to seek help."

Hui's program involves bringing the health screening to area Bosnian businesses. Translators are on hand to facilitate communication between the patient and the screener. The screenings were performed by nurses from Saint Louis University Hospital. 

In addition to the health screenings, SLU nutrition and dietetics students provided tips to make heart-healthy modifications to the Bosnian diet. Both SLUCare and community physicians counseled patients on their screening results.

Bosnian-language heart health and nutrition fact sheets were distributed.

The screenings also serve as a way to connect the community with health care providers, including primary care physicians and dentists, who speak Bosnian.

"We are trying to reconnect them with regular health care services," Hui said. "It can be less intimidating to see someone that speaks the same language and has an understanding of the culture."

Prior to holding the large open screenings, Hui and her team held a few smaller events. One was held at a small Bosnian-owned business; another was held at Dr. Mahrukh Khan's clinic.

"That allowed us to refine the process," Hui said. "We changed our approach to gently advocate cutting down, rather than quitting, smoking and finding other means of stress release. We also modified our nutritional counseling tips to be more specific to Bosnian cuisine."

Sunday's event reached 52 patients, bringing the project total to 134.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.