A Heart Healthy Message From Arthur Ashe, Jr.

By Ginny A. Roth

A public health poster on which Arthur Ashe holds up a booklet illustrated with a heart.

“A Million Americans Have Heart Attacks Every Year.”, circa 1985
National Library of Medicine #C00619

Today, tennis great Arthur Ashe Jr., would have been 70 years old.

Ashe was a no. 1 ranked professional tennis player and the only African-American male ever to win the US Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon. In 1979, despite his active lifestyle style and high level of fitness as an athlete, Ashe suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple-bypass surgery.  He continued to suffer from chest pain for many years and had a second bypass surgery in 1983, during which he received a blood transfusion to expedite the recovery process.  Sadly, it was through this transfusion that Ashe contracted the HIV virus, which was later confirmed in 1988 after tests revealed he had a bacterial infection called toxoplasmosis.  Ashe announced his illness publicly in 1992 and would spend the last year of his life as an AIDS activist, raising awareness about AIDS and its victims. Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993 at the age of 49.

This early 1980s-era poster from the National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, features Ashe promoting good heart health and prominently holding the booklet, “Medicine for the Layman, Heart Attacks.”

portrait of Ginny outsideGinny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.