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County’s Free Health Screenings An Attempt To Catch ‘Silent Killer’ Before It’s Too Late

Dante Ortíz sits in the La Maestra Community Health Centers' mobile clinic fo...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: Dante Ortíz sits in the La Maestra Community Health Centers' mobile clinic for a free screening during San Diego County's annual Love Your Heart event, Feb. 14, 2020.

When Dante Ortíz signed up for a free blood pressure and glucose screening in a health clinic parking lot, he was excited but nervous. He was frightened the free tests outside La Maestra Community Health Centers in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood would find a problem.

"What if?" Ortíz said.

Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

Vital health tests can be as simple as a squeeze of the arm and a prick of the finger, but getting people to the doctor is part of the challenge. The Love Your Heart event makes the tests available for free at dozens of locations across San Diego County, including in Mexico. A county report shows the annual Valentine's Day program over the years has helped more than 500 people identify urgent health problems that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

The festival-like atmosphere at La Maestra caught the attention Ortíz, 45, while he was picking up his daughter’s medication. He said he was concerned the glucose test he was offered could indicate he had diabetes.

"It’s very, very frightening," he said.

Reported by Tarryn Mento , Video by Roland Lizarondo

Sonia Tucker, La Maestra's quality improvement director, said not knowing certain health measurements should be more frightening because problems like high blood pressure, known as hypertension, can be deadly but difficult for people to detect on their own.

"It’s known as the silent killer," Tucker said. "It usually doesn’t give you symptoms, so it’s a little bit too late."

Tucker said the annual event has helped 70% of La Maestra’s hypertension patients get their high blood pressure under control with medication or lifestyle changes. The condition is linked to more than 1,000 deaths in the U.S. each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ortíz said he was concerned about the glucose test partly because of his weight.

"Being a good eater, I was a little afraid," he said.

But he got good news that he was within normal range. He said he was relieved to have one less worry.

"It’s like something just lifted off me," he said.

Other free screenings are available Sunday or even later in the month.

Love Your Heart Screening Sites

This map from San Diego County shows locations that offer free health screenings, including pink hearts where screenings are offered after Valentine's Day.


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Photo of Tarryn Mento

Tarryn Mento
Health Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksThe health beat is about more than just illness, medicine and hospitals. I examine what impacts the wellness of humans and their communities.

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