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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.

Jenny Mhire Missouri

With a degree from Missouri State in sports medicine, and as the owner of CrossFit Springfield, Jeremy Mhire knew all about performing CPR.  He’d never used those skills, though – not until his wife needed her life to be saved.

It was April 2008, and Jeremy, Jenny and their 8-week-old son Vincent were traveling along Highway 44 in Missouri. They were headed to Jenny’s parents’ house in Joplin to drop off the baby, then the couple were going to visit Lawrence, Kansas.  Jeremy looked into the backseat at Jenny – his high school sweetheart, his “Jenny ShineShine” – and at Vincent. He got the baby to laugh, and snapped a picture.

About a half-hour into the drive, Jenny was asleep when a truck veered into their lane. The commotion it caused woke her up. She then gasped and slumped over, her mouth and eyes open.  “She was lifeless,” Jeremy said.

Jeremy immediately pulled the car to the side of the road and placed Jenny on the ground so could check her pulse and listen for her breathing.  Jenny had no pulse. She wasn’t breathing. And she was starting to turn a bluish color.  Jeremy started doing chest compressions and giving mouth-to-mouth breaths.

“I just focused on the task at hand, blowing in the air, making sure her head was tilted back, that the airway was clear and her tongue wasn’t falling back,” Jeremy said. “When you learn CPR, you go through the motions, but to use it, what that feels like, I just can’t describe it. I’m really thankful I had training. I just started doing those first few cycles of compressions and breaths.”

A highway patrol officer eventually pulled over to help. He carried a defibrillator, a device that uses electric shock to restore the heart’s rhythm. Jenny still wasn’t responding.  An ambulance arrived, emergency medical technicians established a heart rhythm and Jenny was rushed to the hospital.

Several days later, while still in the hospital, Jenny said her heart felt funny.  That’s when her heart stopped again.  “She completely flat-lined,” Jeremy said.

Rushed to surgery, Jenny had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted to help maintain a normal heart rhythm. She also eventually received an explanation. Her problems were caused by a condition known as Long QT syndrome.

Long QT syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that can occur in otherwise healthy people and disrupt normal heart function. The condition occurs more often in women, and can be misdiagnosed or overlooked entirely. Long QT syndrome affects about 1 in 7,000 people in the United States and may have caused between 3,000 and 4,000 sudden cardiac deaths in children and young adults each year. The condition often doesn’t have any symptoms; when it does, among the most common is unexplained fainting, which is caused by not enough blood reaching the brain. Jenny acknowledged that she fainted suddenly a few weeks before collapsing in the car, but had attributed it to postpartum fatigue. Jenny had no known history of heart problems or risks for heart disease.

She now takes beta blocker drugs, and regularly visits her cardiologist. Data from her pacemaker is automatically transmitted to her care team so they can spot any irregular heartbeats. Since the pacemaker was implanted, Jenny has not experienced any problems. Pacemakers typically last about five years, and later this year, Jenny will undergo her first surgery to have her pacemaker replaced.
Jenny’s two children also underwent genetic testing for the Long QT syndrome gene mutation. She and Jeremy were relieved when the results were negative.

Jenny, now 34 and a mother of two, hasn’t been slowed by her condition.  She’s a business manager at a hospital in the Springfield, Missouri, area and has since become a yoga instructor. She is obviously very thankful that her husband knew what to do when the moment of need arose, and has become a vocal advocate for the importance of learning CPR.  “You can save a life just by learning some basic steps,” she said.  Jeremy’s quick thinking and CPR training saved his wife’s life.

“I honestly wouldn’t be here without him,” she said.

“It’s a tool in your toolbox you hope you never have to use,” said Jeremy, also 34. “Heart disease and heart conditions can affect any one at any age. I think that’s easily taken for granted especially among people in their 20s and 30s. But you can be proactive with your life. We’re so humbled by the opportunity to share our experience and hopefully raise awareness.”

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