Cooper, Edward S. 1926–
Edward S. Cooper 1926–
Physician, researcher, educator
In June of 1992, Edward S. Cooper became the first African American president of the American Heart Association (AHA). “As a minority, I offer a symbol for change,” he noted in Ebony magazine shortly after taking office. During his tenure as AHA head, Cooper helped to address the special health care needs of people of color. He placed particular emphasis on preventive health care and health education for minorities, who are six times more likely to die from heart disease than whites. And as a member of an under-represented group of Americans in the health care profession, he actively recruited other minorities into the medical field.
Born in South Carolina and raised in Philadelphia, Cooper was exposed to the health care arena as a child. In the southern United States where he was born, “there were usually teacher families [and] minister families,” he told Ebony, “or in our case, doctor families.” In addition to his father and two brothers being dentists, Cooper married a physician. His oldest daughter went on to become a pediatrician, his younger daughter specialized in endocrinology, and his son pursued psychology.
Cooper graduated from high school first in his class. After attending Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, he went to Meharry Medical College, from which he graduated—again first in his class—in 1949. He decided to specialize in cardiology (which includes the study of heart disease, high blood pressure, and related problems such as strokes), because of an incident that occurred during his internship at Philadelphia General Hospital. A patient of his, a woman under 40 years of age, became greatly debilitated by a series of small strokes, or ruptures of blood vessels in the brain. He was saddened by the sight of someone so young being stricken by circulatory disease in her prime and “was determined to do something about the problem,” he told Black Enterprise.
Cooper has devoted his professional life to the prevention and treatment of strokes. He completed his residency in cardiology at Philadelphia General Hospital in 1954 and became one of the leading internists and authorities on strokes in the country.
After his residency, Cooper served two years as chief of the U.S. Air Force Hospital in the Philippines. Then, in 1956, he returned to Philadelphia General as a National Heart Institute fellow. He joined the staff of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in the early 1970s and became the institution’s
Born Edward Sawyer Cooper, December 11, 1926, in Columbia, SC; son of Dr. and Mrs. H. H. Cooper; married Jean Marie Wilder (a physician); children: Lisa Cooper Hudgins, Jan Cooper Jones, Charles W. Cooper, Edward S. Cooper, Jr. (deceased). Education: Lincoln University, A.B., 1946; Meharry Medical College, M.D., 1949.
Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH), intern and resident, 1949-54; National Heart Institute fellow, 1956-57; staff physician at PGH, beginning in 1956; co-director of PGH Stroke Research Center, 1968-74; chief of medical services, 1972-76. University of Pennsylvania Medical School, professor of medicine, 1973—. President of the American Heart Association (AHA), June 1992-June 1993. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine; fellow of the American College of Physicians; former chair of the AHA’s Stroke Council. Author of articles on health care for professional and popular journals. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1954-56; chief of U.S. Air Force Hospital in the Philippines; became captain.
Awards: Hartley Gold Medal, Meharry Medical College, 1949; distinguished alumnus awards from Lincoln University, 1959, and Meharry Medical College, 1971; Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, 1962; Charles Drew Award for distinguished contributions to medical education, 1979; American Heart Association award of merit, 1986.
Addresses: Office —University of Pennsylvania Medical School/University of Pennsylvania Hospital, 3400 Spruce St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.
first black tenured medical professor. In addition, between 1972 and 1976, he was chief of medical services at Philadelphia General.
Early in his career, Cooper was struck by the medical implications of poverty and the alarming incidence of high blood pressure among the poor. For four decades he has divided his time between treating patients and conducting research on the problem. Beginning work as early as 6:00 a.m., he sees up to fifteen patients a day; each year he treats as many as 800 people, most of whom suffer from high blood pressure. Cooper has also conducted extensive research on heart disease and strokes. In the mid-1960s, he received a $1 million grant to build Philadelphia General’s Stroke Research Center and served as its co-director from 1968 until federal budget cuts closed the center’s doors in 1974. He also chaired the American Heart Association’s Stroke Council in the early 1980s.
Cooper has long advocated greater access to affordable health care, and when he became head of the all-volunteer American Heart Association in 1992, he immediately entered the debate on national health care. “Access to health care is something that Americans want,” he noted in Ebony. “It’s a political process. And although the AHA isn’t a political organization, reducing disability and deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke [is] a part of our mission—and in that sense, access becomes important to us.”
The issue of health care access is especially important for African Americans, since the death rate due to high blood pressure and related risks for blacks is six times greater than the rate among whites. African Americans have almost twice the rate of strokes in comparison to the white population, are 18 times more likely to suffer kidney failure, and three to five times more likely to suffer chronic heart failure. “When you get into the most productive years—ages 25-55—the death rate from strokes is four times higher for blacks than whites. This is a frightening figure that requires immediate attention,” he explained in Black Enterprise. Among people of color, high blood pressure frequently starts “earlier in life [and is] more likely to be untreated or inadequately treated,” he told Ebony, because African Americans often lack access to adequate and affordable health care.
As the 1992-93 president of the American Heart Association, Cooper advocated a greater emphasis on health care education and disease prevention for all Americans. “What we’re doing right now in our national health care programs,” he said in Ebony, “is spending our funds on bypass surgery, kidney dialysis, and transplantation.” Early treatment and prevention is more cost efficient, and more importantly, safer for patients in the long run; a healthy life style often eliminates the need for costly procedures and medications later in life. Cooper told Black Enterprise: “We have to continue with education efforts. Currently, only fifty percent of the people that have high blood pressure are controlling it. As motivation improves, we should be able to get that figure up to seventy-five percent.”
Cooper actively spreads his message not only in technical, scientific journals, but also in pieces written for general audiences. His Newsweek article titled “Physical Inactivity as a Risk Factor” stresses the need for people to make life “a moving experience” by adding exercise to daily routines. “We talk a lot about things we should stop doing—such as smoking, eating too much fat and putting too much salt in our food. But the thing that each of us should start doing right now, today, is become more active.”
In addition to his commitment to minority health care issues, Cooper has worked hard to increase minority representation in the medical profession. As late as 1992, statistics showed that while African Americans make up 12 percent of the total population, they comprise only 3 percent of the nation’s doctors. As a concerned African American physician, a former chairman of the National Medical Association’s talent recruitment council, and the first black president of the American Heart Association—a predominantly white institution—Cooper serves as a distinguished role model for people of color considering a career in the medical field.
Black Enterprise, October 1988, p. 68; September 1992, p. 26.
Ebony, October 1992, p. 25.
Newsweek, November 2, 1992, p. 58.
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