American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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  • Learn about heart-health issues
  • Meet other likeminded advocates
  • Take action and be heard

Hello I'm Pkaye Washington. Back in 1991, I was diagnosed with a hereditary heart condition where the muscles of my heart didn't pump as strong as a normal person.  Since then I've been hospitalized at least three times due to heart related issues. I realized that sodium is my enemy and that I must maintain my body weight to keep excess stress off my heart. 

Maintaining the correct blood pressure has been tricky and a struggle, but each day is a blessing to try again.  In October 2012 I was crowned Ms. Texas Classic of the United America Pageant.  The pageant promotes volunteering at a non-profit organization.  Being a heart patient, the AHA is where I landed, and I'm so glad I did! Being able to use this platform to get the word out about all facets of maintaining a healthy heart has been a true pleasure.  

I have volunteered with the AHA’s Multicultural Initiatives department and currently serve as the Austin Grassroots Action Team Chair.

Jimmy Leiter Deerfield, IL

I was getting ready to play football during my senior year of high school.  I had to see my family doctor to get my physical done, and because of a heart murmur and some other heart issues from when I was younger, the doctor insisted I get an echo. He told me that he wouldn't sign-off on my physical until I got an echo done. After a few tests they determined I have a serious heart defect called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy also known as HCM. So I was put on major physical restrictions which included no football. I decided to get another opinion done, at the children's hospital in Chicago just before my 18th birthday.  I had a bunch of tests done including an EKG, echo, stress test, and my least favorite, a heart MRI. And unfortunately the first doctor was right, I have HCM. I was so heart broken and very upset. My mother was in shock.   She had told the doctor that I had no symptoms and the doctor looked my mother right in her eyes and said the only symptom is dropping dead. I had to quit football which was the hardest thing to do, but my coach didn't let me go that easy.  He decided to make me team manager. I accepted the offer and even though I couldn't play, I could help. It wasn't easy sitting on the sidelines watching the others play, but I did know that God had a reason for it all.

Over the next couple of months I started getting really depressed because of not being able to do much of anything, I felt as I was on house arrest, but worse one wrong move could kill me. After high school I decided to follow my other dream of being a computer tech, since I couldn't do college ball or the military. So I attended Robert Morris University and finished my Associate’s within degree within two years.  I had a great job, but still had the bad heart. After some time and more life transitions, I had started noticed some major physical changes. I was getting shortness of breath, tiredness, and dizziness. My doctor ordered more tests, and this time the stress test had found that when my heart is under a lot of stress I have ton of blockage.  So they decided to sign me up to receive a defibrillator.  But after talking with the specialist for my defibrillator and telling her about some other symptoms I was having, she had mentioned it to my doctor and again more test were ordered.  It was determined that I needed to have open heart surgery to remove some of the muscle off the heart. I was devastated by the news and broke down.  I was completely scared out of my mind. This surgery wasn't rare, but it still one that is pretty risky. After a month of waiting for surgery day, I had said all my good-byes and see you on the other sides. The first surgery lasted for eight hours, followed by three hours for the defibrillator placement.  When I woke-up, I was in ICU and the doctor said everything went as according to plan. After spending just under a week in the hospital and being able to see and touch the Stanley Cup thanks to Coach Q and the Blackhawks, I was out and heading home.

The weeks that followed the surgery were not always easy. There were days were I felt as I could take on the world and then days were I felt as I was hit by a train. After a lot of prayer and advice I decided to go back to school, my doctor was very shocked that I "recovered" within three months of having the surgery, but the battle only was beginning. I had a rough start at school, but once I signed up for tutoring and got a new job at a local athletic club, I was able to drop 80 percent of my stress AND got myself in better health. By working at this health club for about four months I already had lost over 20 pounds and my blood pressure is better than ever.  My self-esteem is also better than it has been in years. People look at me and wouldn't even guess I had open-heart surgery because of how active I am active as well as the joy I have in my heart. And it is all because of one little angel, my doctor, telling me to get checked up and that checkup it ended up saving my life.

On October 29, You're the Cure volunteer and acute neurovascular clinical nurse specialist Michelle Whaley, spoke to a group of volunteers and Colorado legislators to raise awareness of World Stroke Day. As a person on the front line practicing at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Michelle has firsthand experience in working with patients when they get to the hospital after suffering a stroke. Michelle shared her experience as she eloquently spoke to the group, ensuring that they knew the signs and symptoms of stroke. She also described the variety of patients she sees, from infants and children, to working parents and the elderly. The case studies she provided were a powerful example of how stroke can impact any one at any time.

Please click here to learn more about stroke. 

As North Dakota continues to attract new businesses and the development of our resources, it’s important to also recognize the need for education and awareness of our state’s health risks, especially as it relates to heart disease and stroke.  The AHA is excited to announce that Jessica Petrick has joined our staff to provide outreach, education and development opportunities for the Bismarck community as the Corporate Events Director.  Jessica comes to the AHA with a passion for serving North Dakota in helping to reduce the impact of heart disease and stroke. 

Jessica received her Masters and Bachelor's Degrees from the University of Mary in Bismarck. A veteran, Jessica served in the military for 6 years, which included a tour of duty in Iraq.  Most recently, Jessica was the Director of Human Resources for a non-profit in Minot, until relocating to Bismarck.

Jessica has a broad knowledge of business marketing from owning and operating a brick and mortar business as well as working as the Chief Operations Officer for Solamar Marketing Agency.  Like many of us, her interest in improving the cardiovascular health of our communities is because of the impact it has had on her own family

Jessica is deeply passionate about philanthropy, public speaking, and helping small businesses grow. She loves spending time with her family going camping, hunting and running. She has been married for almost 9 years and is the mother of two children, Reed and Lola.  Welcome Jessica! 


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