In 2006, Nana Eyeson-Akiwowo received an urgent phone call from one of her uncles in Ghana: Her 64-year-old father had suffered a heart attack. Eyeson-Akiwowo worked at the time as a bookings editor for a women’s lifestyle publication in New York. As she panicked about her father’s condition, her friend Lanre Kuye–who just happened to be on his way to Accra, where her father lived–sent her an instant message. She told him about her father’s condition, and he volunteered to visit him. When Kuye arrived at the hospital, he found Alexander Eyeson lying on a stretcher in the hallway. He quickly arranged a private room for Eyeson’s care.
Eyeson-Akiwowo later learned that her father had visited the hospital earlier that same day, complaining about numbness in his leg. But his ankle was bandaged and he was sent home. “That kind of nonchalant behavior when my father’s having a heart attack didn’t make sense to me,” she says. “In the U.S., when a 64-year-old comes to the hospital with numbness in the leg, they check for blood clots because [numbness] often indicates a stroke or heart attack.”
As her father recovered and local community members rallied around him, Eyeson-Akiwowo had an epiphany. She would organize a health fair. According to the World Health Organization, noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes were responsible for 63% of global deaths in 2008. In Ghana, it is estimated that 49,000 men and 36,000 women died from noncommunicable diseases that same year, accounting for 39% of all deaths.
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