School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

Student forms health education group to combat hypertension and diabetes

John Purakal, right, Joseph Tsao and Jakub Sikora-Klak speak to a senior citizens group.

John Purakal, right, Joseph Tsao and Jakub Sikora-Klak speak to a senior citizens group.

A Wayne State University School of Medicine student has launched an ambitious public education program to expand awareness of health issues for audiences that may not have access to basic health information.

John Purakal, a second-year student from Grosse Pointe Shores, launched Raising Our Community’s Knowledge through the school’s Medicine and Political Action in the Community program. MPAC, under the auspices of the School of Medicine’s Co-Curricular Program, allows students, with the guidance of faculty, to develop a year-long project revolving around politics and community involvement. Purakal designed a public health lecture series to educate residents of Detroit of all ages about prevalent diseases “that are becoming epidemics here in the city.”

Two first-year students, Joseph Tsao and Jakub Sikora-Klak, joined Purakal’s effort. Together, the three have given talks on hypertension, diabetes and obesity to more than 700 people so far. Audiences have included senior citizens organizations and free clinics in Detroit, as well as students at University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Cass Technical High School.

“My biology students were very receptive,” said Cass Tech teacher Mia Bradley-Pearson. “I feel as though these students have been empowered with the information provided. One or two students have since discussed with me issues regarding their parents' blood pressure and diet. Since our students are the future of Michigan and very capable of understanding the complexities of urban ills, this presentation was a needed plus. ... We hope to have established a working partnership with the Wayne State School of Medicine students and we look forward to the next presentation.”

Hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes are no longer concerns only for the middle-aged and elderly, Purakal noted.

“Because the rates of these diseases are so high, particularly in the Detroit area, younger kids need to learn about them to adopt healthier lifestyles and avoid the pitfalls that can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes,” he said. “We have gotten great feedback and are constantly trying to improve the program. It has gone remarkably well and we are hoping to gather more interest from groups that may want us to present our lectures.”

Purakal developed the idea for ROCK while collecting data for a three-country research project into hypertension in African-Americans whose roots trace back to the Caribbean and Africa. The study involved patients with hypertension in Tanzania, Jamaica and Detroit, and evaluating the potential relationships between psycho-social understanding of high blood pressure and potential risk factors, including social demographics, medication and self-reported dietary changes. The assessed the relationship in potential cross-cultural differences in perceptions of hypertension, susceptibility to complications and self-management practices.

“We found that a large facet of the high prevalence can be correlated to the patients’ understanding of their own disease,” he said. “We found that there was a significant under-appreciation and misunderstanding of the disease processes here in Detroit.”

The less informed the person, the greater his likelihood of developing high blood pressure and diabetes. ROCK is setting out to address that lack of information and understanding.

Purakal said the trio is seeking other organizations interested in hosting a presentation and in establishing a student group that will continue the effort. They are in the process of forming a permanent public health group based upon the same premise. He also envisions an opportunity for students at a number of WSU colleges – pharmacy and nursing in particular – to broaden the speaker pool and reach a larger number of people.

Those who would like to be included in ROCK’s mailing list or know a person or group interested in presentations, and students interested in public health who would like to volunteer with the group, can e-mail

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