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Five counties in southeastern Oklahoma selected for national heart project

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ATOKA COUNTY -- The Oklahoma State Health Department says heart disease is the state's number one killer.

It also takes an economic toll, resulting in nearly two-billion dollars in hospital charges annually.

But now, five counties in the area have been selected to be a part of a program aimed at helping heart patients live longer, healthier lives.

Barnell Smith lifts weights at a gym in Atoka almost every day. But, he hasn't always been this way.

"I was about 100 pounds heavier, high blood pressure," Smith.

Four years ago, he says he decided to make a lifestyle change when his doctor told him he needed medication to reduce his high blood pressure.

"They were going to put me on medication. I asked the doctor how long I'd be on it he said probably the rest of my life," Barnell said. "I went and bought a treadmill that same day and haven't looked back."

It's this type of outcome the Oklahoma State Health Department hopes to replicate through the Oklahoma Heartland Project, a new initiative aimed at reducing the unusually high rate of heart health issues in southeastern Oklahoma, including high blood pressure.

"The reason that this is such an important project is if you look at the data from 2012 in the state of Oklahoma, there were 9,000 preventable from heart disease, just in Oklahoma," Melissa Locke, district nurse manager for the Oklahoma State Health Department said.

Atoka, Pittsburg, Pontotoc, Coal and Latimer counties are participating in the project.

It's one of ten areas nationwide involved in Million Hearts initiative to prevent one million heart attacks by 2017.

Geographically, the health department says 42% of people in the southeastern quadrant of the state are diagnosed with high blood pressure compared to 31-36%in the rest of the state.

"Obesity, tobacco, poor nutrition, those are all the things that contribute to heart disease," Locke said.

The health department is relying on local doctors, pharmacists and hospitals to refer patients they feel would benefit from the Oklahoma Heartland Project.

Once enrolled, participants will have access to a range of resources to improve their heart health.

The pilot project is funded through the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Oklahoma received a $115,000 grant for the project which will last at least 9 months.