NC salons aren’t just turning heads – they’re saving lives

Hair, Heart & Health in action

The Hot Seat Studio Salon has blood pressure monitors and a scale on site for anyone to use. There are no doughnuts or sweet treats; instead, fruit and healthy snacks are up for grabs. Health education materials line the bookshelf in the waiting area. The salon hosts Hair, Heart & Health events where community members attend blood pressure seminars and enjoy snacks and meals from healthy-eating focused food trucks.

Clients regularly ask Henry and his fellow ambassadors questions about heart health. Though they can explain the basics of risk factors and healthy living – hydration, diet, exercise and preventative care – they are mindful of the role they play. “We have a clear understanding of what we can and can’t do. We never diagnose anything. We make referrals and we have a great referral list through the program,” Henry says. They can, however, help change behaviors.

Clients regularly take a stroll around the block while their color or conditioner is setting. Many enter the salon and, before settling into a chair in front of their stylist, take their own blood pressure. It’s become part of their salon experience.

Henry has personally benefitted from the health knowledge he has gained. In October 2022, Henry woke up in the middle of the night to blurred vision. He couldn’t stand without falling. “The first thing I thought was, ‘Something is wrong,’” he says. “The second thing was, ’Stay calm.’”

He drove himself to the closest emergency room, where he was diagnosed with vertigo and sent home. But the diagnosis didn’t feel right, so he returned the next day and received a different diagnosis: a stroke. “I was thinking of all the things that I know from Hair, Heart & Health, and all the things that I know about my body. That experience was a testament to understanding the program.”

A year earlier, one of Henry’s clients succumbed to a heart attack, right outside the salon. “He was a muscular, athletic person and never would I have imagined that he would have a massive heart attack. The biggest takeaway is that we are not what we look like,” Henry says. “Sometimes people are perfectly healthy or happy or thin, but they have things going on in their body that are going to be detrimental to them and their overall health.”

Henry’s stroke and his client’s heart attack have been wake-up calls for the salon community. Stylists and clients alike check on one another and speak up if they have a concern. “We become family,” Henry says. “Someone is looking, someone is watching and someone cares.”

Growing the program

So far, program ambassadors have reached over 6,000 peers, sharing heart health information and the most up-to-date educational materials. The success of the program has spurred the AHA and Blue Cross NC to expand the initiative into rural areas of the state, aligning with the organizations’ shared focus on rural health. This summer, the Hair, Heart & Health program will launch in Alamance, Caswell and Person counties.

“Preventive care is vitally important in rural areas, as care is not as easily accessible when emergencies, such as heart attack or stroke, arise,” says Jennifer Graziano, American Heart Association’s senior community impact director. “Our goals are to share health information, connect clients to strategies for managing their health and improve blood pressure management numbers in these rural counties.”

The partnership between Blue Cross NC and the AHA goes back well over a decade. This initiative has proven to be just one more avenue to work together and better the health of North Carolinians by addressing health inequities.

“This partnership was such a natural fit,” says Leo Scarpati, a community and diversity engagement program manager at Blue Cross NC. “We share a focus with the AHA on increasing rural health access and finding the most effective ways to connect the public with valuable health resources. The expansion of this program is evident of the impact made and the impact to come.”

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