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I’ve been with the American Heart Association as the Nebraska Communications Director for the past two years, but my time with AHA extends beyond that.

Let me take you back to 2008. I was living in the big city - our nation’s capital – and working for a big time trade association on their advocacy team. I was making good money and living in the heart of a city I loved for its politics, rich history, and culture. It was the end of summer, and the presidential election between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama was as heated as I’ve ever seen. I had just returned from a weekend trip to my favorite little getaway, Gettysburg, PA, when I received a phone call from my parents. They told me that my dear, sweet and only surviving grandparent, “Grams” was diagnosed with heart disease and was in heart failure, but that I “shouldn’t worry” that there was “plenty of time,” and “all sorts of medications” to keep her going. I hung up the phone feeling like I had just been stabbed and all the air from my chest had been sucked out. “Not my Grams,” I thought. She was the one person in my life who believed in me, when maybe my parents wished I was using my head a little more than my heart. She taught me to embrace my free spirit and to explore the vast curiosity I had for life and living.  I knew at that moment that I wanted to move back to Nebraska to spend time with her, to learn more about our family history, and to sit out on her deck to watch the sun set its beautiful colors across the lake as we chat about everything and nothing all at the same time.

I never got to do any of that, though. By the time I made it back to Nebraska, “Grams” fell in her living room floor and was rushed to the hospital, where she suffered 3 heart attacks. She was brought back to life twice with CPR and an AED. The last heart attack took her sweet soul from this earth and without a chance for me to even say goodbye. The ironic thing is, while she was being rushed to the ER, I was casually making the 4-hour drive to her house to spend Thanksgiving with her and my parents, who were already there. My parents never let on that anything was wrong, not until I drove into the driveway that night to find a house without my Grams.

Shortly before her passing, I had started working for a television station as a news producer. Our station proudly sponsored the American Heart Association and many of its fundraising and awareness events. In 2009, I started attending the Go Red For Women Expo, making a donation each time in honor of my grandmother. Soon, I was attending the Heart Walk’s, too, always walking in memory of my Grams. Then, in 2012 I had the chance to work for the American Heart Association as the Communications Director in Nebraska. I could not think of a better way to honor and remember the woman who I had such a special bond with, a woman I loved with my entire heart.  When I look at where my life is now, I know she would be so proud of me; though, she’d probably be mad that I never left Nebraska again, but proud nonetheless. I even named my adopted shelter Puggle, Ms. Charlie Rose, in part, after her.

My grandma may have been old, but she still had a lot of life left to live. She didn’t have to die the way that she did. And neither do so many others. And that’s why, each and every day, I make it my job, literally, to spread awareness in the fight against our No.1 killer, so that others don’t lose their loved ones a day, a month, a year, or a decade too soon. When people ask why I do what I do at the American Heart Association, the answer is simple, Rosemary Jean Waters … my “Grams”…is why.

Bill became an American Heart Association volunteer when he joined You’re the Cure in September 2013 after signing an online petition asking the city council members and mayor of Irving to pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance. Bill grew up in Irving, graduated from Irving High school (class of ’76), and now lives there with his family, making the smoke-free issue close to his home and heart.

However, Bill’s main motivation for advocating on behalf of the American Heart Association comes from the fact that he “comes from a family that has lost too many members to preventable heart disease.” Bill’s “goal is to help other families avoid that pain through greater awareness!”

In April 2014, Bill  wrote a letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News, urging the city council and mayor of Irving to pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance. His letter exposed the truth about ventilation systems and their inability to remove the toxins from secondhand smoke.

In May 2014, Bill accepted the American Stroke Month proclamation on behalf of the American Heart Association, speaking before the city council and Mayor Van Duyne about using the F.A.S.T acronym to recognize a stroke and the need for quick treatment in the event of a stroke.

He also volunteered at the Taste of Dallas event in July gathering over 30 petition card signatures showing support for the smoke-free effort in Irving and will volunteer for the upcoming Heart Walk in Dallas, again helping gather more petition signatures.

Bill also serves on the AHA’s Smoke-Free Leadership Council, working with Advocacy staff and other AHA volunteer leaders across the state of Texas working towards the passage of a state-wide smoke-free law.

Cameron Croonquist

Hi everyone my name is Cameron.  I am currently a student studying Public Health Policy and Management at Oregon State University and I’m also wrapping up my advocacy internship with the American Heart Association this summer. For the last three months I’ve been working on our effort to ensure all students learn Hands-Only CPR in school by 2015.  I am extremely passionate about improving the quality and longevity of people’s health here in Oregon, so working with the American Heart Association has been a great fit.

My experience at the American Heart Association has been filled with excitement.  I was fortunate to work with many advocates in various Oregon communities who support our effort to educate more people in Hands-Only CPR as well as state legislators throughout the state.  I really enjoyed hearing about the successes regarding CPR education and listening to heartwarming stories where lives were saved.  Improving the health of our communities is a priority of mine, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that the Heart Association has provided me with the opportunity to create a safer community for all of us.  I look forward to using the experiences I’ve gained at the American Heart Association to reach my educational goals at Oregon State University.