A local cardiologist is receiving a top honor for her efforts to address racial disparities in heart disease.
Dr. Deborah L. Crabbe will be presented with the prestigious Dr. Edward S. Cooper Award during the American Heart Association’s 65th Annual Philadelphia Heart Ball slated for June 3 at the Metropolitan Opera House.
“Dr. Crabbe has been a valued volunteer of The American Heart Association for many years and there is no one more deserving of the Edward S. Cooper Award,” said Jennifer Davis, senior vice president and executive director of the Philadelphia AHA.
“Dr. Crabbe’s unwavering commitment to improving and extending the lives of her patients by not only addressing their physical and mental health, but also understanding the social influencers that play a role in their ability to live a long, healthy life make her an ideal recipient of this honor.
In her daily work as a physician, Dr. Crabbe embodies the ideals set forth by Dr. Cooper to place emphasis on preventive health care and health education for minorities, who are significantly more likely to die from heart disease.”
Cooper is an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He served the American Heart Association for 30 years and in June of 1992 became the first African American president of the organization.
“Dr. Cooper spent most of his career trying to give voice to voiceless which is underserved and minority patients and highlighted the importance of health disparities, narrowing health disparities and seeking prevention in communities of color,” said Crabbe, a professor at the Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine and cardiologist at the Temple Heart and Vascular Institute (THVI) at Temple University Hospital.
“I was pretty humbled that somebody would think that I did something even close to what Dr. Cooper did. I feel as though I have a long ways to go to touch his helm coat. I was very honored that somebody thought that what I was doing was worthwhile and worth acknowledging.”
As a little girl growing during the 1960s, Crabbe aspired to become a doctor.
“I’m the little kid that was listening to all of this stuff that was going on during the Civil Rights Movement and how we needed to be a credit to our race and how we needed to step up and take care of our own,” said the native of Bronx, New York.
“All of those things, I think, had a huge impact on me and when I came to Temple I saw an opportunity to do just that and I saw a need.”
After joining Temple more than 20 years ago, Crabbe observed that some African Americans and other community members of color had poor health literacy and lacked a good understanding of the medications they were being prescribed.
“I saw that they had a very difficult time taking care of themselves – particularly around one health condition where it comes out the most – which is heart failure,” Crabbe said.
“I found that they didn’t advocate for themselves and I found that there was a huge need in this area and I felt really compelled that I needed to do something about it.”
So she set out to educate North Philadelphia residents about the importance of heart health, enable communities of color to participate in clinical trials and engage in health disparities research about Black women.
Throughout the years, Crabbe has worked with the Triumph Baptist Church on community outreach, heart health education sessions and cholesterol screenings.
She’s observed challenges faced by African American women in North Philadelphia — many of whom are family matriarchs — when they develop heart failure.
“When that happens they are poorly poised to understand what they’re doing that either exacerbates their heart failure condition and furthermore things that they can do to help along with the medication,” said Crabbe, noting that African American women are typically diagnosed with heart failure in their 50s.
Three years ago, she applied for a grant from the National Coalition for Women and Heart Disease to establish a peer support group for women at Temple.
And due to the pandemic, Crabbe is currently engaged in two new initiatives. This comes as people with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease are at severe risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Crabbe is leading a research project on racial and sex specific cardiovascular disease disparities in COVID-19 that is supported by a $150,000 Eugene Washington PCORI (Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute) Engagement Award. The goal of the project is to incorporate the perspectives of African American and female patients in developing research priorities and a research agenda related to COVID-19.
“I decided that this was a time where we should take the opportunity to educate and speak to the community about what it means to be a part of research, understand their perspectives about research and understand their experiences about COVID-19,” Crabbe explained.
“I felt as though that would help to ensure that some of the questions are relevant to them — that resonate with things that they’re interested in knowing and resonate with their own life’s experiences when it comes to COVID.”
She also partnered with Dr. Sabrina Islam, a cardiologist at THVI, to lead a pilot program which provides mentorship and research training experiences to medical trainees from under-represented minority groups focused on racial/sex-specific cardiovascular disease disparities in COVID-19.
The program, which was established by a $35,000 grant from the Edna Kynett Foundation, will provide Temple’s senior medical students and postgraduate medical trainees with needed health equity and research training to improve the pipeline of physicians interested in medical research.
The project is the first of its kind sponsored by the newly established Collaborative for Cardiovascular Equity in North Philadelphia The collaborative consists of investigators from the THVI and the Office of Community Engaged Research and Practice at Temple University.