Micah McKinney | Guest columnist
As I grab my cleats and prepare to walk out on the football field, I’m filled with a mix of emotions. Memorizing the playbook is at the forefront of my mind as I replay the endless hours of practice it has taken to get to this very moment. I remind myself that the next three hours count toward my future career.
However, the life I once saw for myself changed. After years of making key plays on the football field every Friday night, I found myself instead in a physical therapy clinic working on regaining my strength. Years of football resulted in a network of nerves sending signals from my spinal cord to my shoulder, arm and hand, known as the brachial plexus.
My cleats have been replaced with hard shoes, as my life has transitioned off the football field and into the field of clinical research.
While working for the Preventing Alzheimer’s with Cognitive Training (PACT) study, my personal view of healthy living has shifted towards prevention. I’ve quickly learned that the foundation for a lifetime of healthy aging extends beyond just physical health and requires maintaining my cognition and brain health. As a researcher for PACT, I listen to my participants’ stories of how Alzheimer’s and dementia have indirectly impacted them and how their involvement in prevention research brings them hope — a perspective that was previously unfamiliar to me.
Growing up in the Black community of South Alabama, many people avoided seeking medical attention, despite their pain. I remember the negative perceptions of healthcare and clinical research that remain prevalent in my community today.
I’m forced to reflect on how my community views research with fear and uncertainty, while the same research provides a sense of hope and optimism for others.
As I continue my career path in clinical research with the goal to become a medical doctor, I see the disconnect between healthcare and the Black community. American society has a longstanding history of adverse incidences that interfere with our community’s views on medicine and research due to various factors, such as lack of empathy, mistreatment and limited access to healthcare resources. However, to move forward, we must acknowledge the past and use it as a catapult for our future.
I’m excited about the opportunity that PACT can bring to the local Black community in Jacksonville. I hope that the relationships I build with my current and future participants can help make a difference in their individual journeys towards healthy aging while improving the narrative of care and respect for my community.
As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The PACT study is recruiting volunteers aged 65 and older with no signs of cognitive impairment or dementia. More information is available at PACTStudy.org or by calling (904) 620-4263.
Micah McKinney is a clinical research phlebotomy associate with the Preventing Alzheimer’s with Cognitive Training (PACT) study at the University of North Florida. Prior to working for PACT, he contributed to Mayo Clinic’s research in the areas of neurology and gastroenterology. He hopes to dedicate his professional career to reducing health disparities in the African American community and has plans to attend medical school.