The following excerpt is from an op-ed that first appeared in the Los Angeles Times on June 17th, 2024.

One of my patients who lives in Diné Bikéyah, the vast Navajo reservation in New Mexico, sleeps in an old Ford pickup truck that often doesn’t start. He has heart failure and relies on oxygen. But since he is without electricity, he spends his nights sneaking into the Walmart parking lot to charge his oxygen concentrator so he can survive another day.

For more than a year, he has needed coronary artery bypass surgery. But he can’t drive himself to the hospital three hours away, and his friends can’t afford the gas to take him. Each time his phone is out of service, I wonder whether it’s a coverage gap or an unpaid bill. Or something worse.

Such health concerns are common on the nation’s largest reservation. American Indians have the highest mortality and lowest life expectancy of any racial group in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My team’s research shows that nearly half of American Indians on Medicare suffer from a serious heart problem. And the life expectancy at birth for American Indian-Alaska Native people was 65.2 years in 2021 — equal to that of the U.S. population overall in 1944.

Read the entire op-ed here.


Lauren Eberly

Lauren Eberly, MD, MPH

Assistant Professor, Cardiovascular Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine; Staff Cardiologist, Indian Health Service, Gallup Indian Medical Center

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