Award-winning actress, singer, songwriter, television producer and talk show host Queen Latifah looks mean in green in NBC’s adaptation of The Wiz Live! (she’s “The Wiz”), but offscreen Latifah goes red for her mother and the millions of people diagnosed with heart failure (HF). Queen Latifah and her mother Rita Owens, who suffers from heart failure, have joined the American Heart Association’s Rise Above Heart Failure campaign to let everyone know that with education, support and by being proactive with managing the condition, people can live with HF.
“My mom is stronger than anyone I’ve ever known. Growing up, when life got hard her strength helped pull us through,” the actress said in a recent PSA for the American Heart Association. In 2013, Owens was diagnosed with scleroderma, an incurable autoimmune disease that caused scar tissue to build up in her lungs, requiring her to be on oxygen 24/7.
Owens later was diagnosed with heart failure after passing out while teaching art at a New Jersey high school. The diagnosis changed Latifah and her mother’s relationship for the better Latifah told PEOPLE in an interview. “We’ve learned a new us. We’ve gotten a lot closer and we’ve learned each other on a whole different, deeper level.”
“I found myself becoming a recluse,” Owens said in the same interview about life after her HF diagnosis. “You have to understand your body is not processing the same way it was before. I started counting the things I can’t do instead of the things I can do. And I said, ‘Nope, this is not acceptable.’ ”
With the help of Latifah’s uplifting spirit, affirmations and attending church, “I started coming back,” Owens says. “I thank the Lord every day that I have that I can live with this, and that He put people in my life that told me so.”
Together, they are helping others living with HF find their way back.
HF, also known as congestive heart failure, is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. It affects 1 in 5 people and African Americans have the highest risk of developing heart failure, and the risk of developing the condition before age 50 is also greater in African Americans.
Many tend to believe heart failure is a condition that primarily affects men, but that is not the case. “Heart failure is an equal opportunity disease and as many women are likely to have this diease as men. And because it’s a disease of aging and women tend to live longer, in later years this is a disease that uniquely impacts women,” explains Clyde W. Yancy, M.D., a past president of the American Heart Association and Chief of Cardiology and Magerstadt Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, in a recent interview with BlackDoctor.org. “What [Queen Latifah] has done for us has been to put a name and a face on this condition.”