At the end of every art class, Rita Owens sang a little ditty to her high school students. While it was just three words — “Clean up, please” — a lot was packed into her delivery.
Her tone was that of a loving mother and, in a sense, she was. Owens cared for these students so much that she ran an after-school program that helped steer kids in the right direction in life.
By making a joyful request instead of barking out an order, Owens showed clever leadership. Her sweet approach proved an effective way of getting the class to put away their colors, papers and other materials.
So her daughter, entertainer Queen Latifah, knew something was wrong when she called Owens’ classroom one afternoon and heard her mom deliver that trademark tune with “a little less of a song to it — not the same brightness.”
“I could hear her being more short-tempered with her students,” Latifah said. “She had a lot of patience, so if she was short, it was very noticeable. I also noticed she was more fatigued. I could tell she wasn’t feeling well.”
Owens was an energetic woman who didn’t smoke or drink, and was never overweight. To her loved ones, this change in her personality was more of a curiosity than a major concern.
Until the day she passed out at school.
It’s a frightful phrase for anyone. For Latifah, it was magnified because about a year before her grandmother died from it. As this doctor discussed which medicines Owens should take, Latifah recognized several as being the same ones her grandmother had taken.
“But my mom was in her 50s!” Latifah told the doctor. “She’s too young for this. What does it mean? She’s going to be OK, isn’t she?”
Although no one could say so on that day, today we can. It’s been 11 years and Owens is still going strong. So strong that she and Latifah are working with my organization, the American Heart Association, to spread the word that patients can“Rise Above Heart Failure,” and to help teach them how.
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T3 Health & Wellness Ministry is working to help inform, empower and enlighten the community about all aspects of living healthy, whole lives.