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Thomas Armstrong West Lafayette, IN

Thomas Armstrong's Journey

February 2014 my father, siblings and I were faced with a horrible decision, a life changing decision.  He was admitted to the hospital on an emergency basis. We were told my father was suffering from a condition called Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD).  What was that?  None of us have ever heard of this condition or even knew what it was.  PAD, is a condition where the arteries began to harden. Resulting in a limited amount of blood flow to his lower extremities. His feet and legs were what was described as Blood Pooling.  The surgeon's hope was to restore the blood flow back to his legs/feet, but after further investigation they had told us there was no hope to save them, that his condition had worsened.  What's our options? AMPUTATION of both limbs.  One just below and the other just above.

So his journey began. My dad was always a walker. Every morning, day and night he walked. So when the doctors told him/us that he may never get to walk again. It was NOT an option. He would walk again.  He told his home physical therapist he would walk again, not only would he walk again, but he would walk by is Birthday.  My dad's birthday is on July 29th and I am happy to say that my dad took his very first step on July 26th with the inspiration of his grandson Dakota, who was his walking buddy.

He has a lot of work still ahead of him and yes there are day where he just wants to give up, but as amazing as my dad is he wakes up every day and puts his prosthesis on and walks. Of course it's hard and yes it frustrating, but my dad's faith and inner strength helps him succeed every time he gets up on his feet.  His team of care takers are an amazing team. The encouragement they give him is unbelievable. He was given the nickname Amazing Tom, because no matter the challenge put in front of him, he conquers it.

My dad's life changed that day, our lives changed that day. There are days I get upset, because had we known that there was a disease called Peripheral Arterial Disease, then just maybe things could have been different. Heart Disease is one of the leading causes of deaths today, but sadly one of the least funded. There are many forms of heart disease and one of those forms my father suffers from. Not only does this disease affect the heart and lower limbs, but also every organ within the body. Without Blood flow our bodies cannot survive. I have become involved in the American Heart Association because of my father and many others like him and my family. Everyone needs to be aware of this disease.
 
My dad is an amazing person who has just started his new journey. Some people think it is a horrible thing, but I have to say... change this to be positive. After all... doctors, nurses and Physical Therapist didn't believe my dad would walk again, but look at him today. He is a survivor.
He would like to send a message to all who will listen. If you are a smoker, STOP. Smoking is one of the major contributes to Peripheral Arterial Disease. You can follow my dad's story and any updates on Facebook,  just look for Amazing Tom.

Felicia Guerrero Ohio

As an active You’re the Cure Advocate and Physician Outreach and Marketing Liaison for the University of Toledo, Felicia Guerrero is no stranger to speaking up for improved health for Ohio’s kids and communities. So, it was no surprise that Felicia jumped at the chance to deliver “lunch” (a lunch bag of puzzle pieces representing healthy school meals) to both U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur’s and U.S. Senator Rob Portman’s offices in support of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Felicia describes her passion for heart-health advocacy as two-fold. Her son was born with a minor arrhythmia which, thankfully, was corrected by the age of seven. In addition, her mother-in-law passed away from a massive heart attack, even though she showed no noticeable physical signs of heart disease. No one suspected her vague symptoms in the days leading up to the event were heart-related.

In retrospect, Felicia feels that if “we would have known…” about preventive heart-healthy habits and learning the symptoms of heart attacks specific to women, her mother-in-law may have saved.

Felicia is also a big advocate for Ohio Lobby Days, where constituents gather to meet with their lawmakers at the Statehouse in Columbus. She believes that “personal stories speak volumes” and being able to share her story with lawmakers has an even greater impact on passing heart-healthy policies for all Ohioans.

Thank you, Felicia, for all you do to improve heart-health in the Buckeye State!

Kingston Murriel Jackson, Mississippi

On July 3, 2012, 5 weeks before my due date, I had an appointment for my 8-month checkup.  During the ultrasound the physician could not get a good view of the left ventricle of my son’s heart.  He thought it was due to the way he was laying, but wanted to have a pediatric cardiologist look to be sure.  Soon after, I visited the cardiologist and was told that my son had hypoplastic left heart syndrome.  I immediately tried to convince myself this was something minor and would be easily corrected.  Unfortunately the physician told me that Kingston would have to have heart surgery after delivery, a second heart surgery, 5 to 6 months later, and a third surgery a few years later.  I thought this was a death sentence.  I couldn’t imagine a baby going through something like this. 

The following week, we met with the fetal medicine team, the pediatric cardiology surgeon, and staff to prepare us for delivery.  My family and I spent a day with support nurses and asking questions of the physicians.  We received information on the advances in heart surgery, congenital heart defects, heart health and the success rate of infants that have the three heart surgeries.  On August 6th, Kingston was born and had a successful Norwood procedure for his first heart surgery.  Five months later Kingston’s Glenn surgery was successful as well.  We have been very fortunate to not have any complications and have a healthy, active baby today. 
 
The most interesting part of my family’s story is that we’ve always supported the American Heart Association through donations, walks and at their events for children.  Every year I participated in the American Heart Association’s Go Healthy Challenge, but I never thought the efforts, education and research of this organization would affect us personally until Kingston was born.  Often people think the AHA’s mission is adult specific and focuses just on the prevention of heart attack and stroke.  My work with the organization and having Kingston is a testament of how heart health starts at birth and how important it is to practice prevention every day, for all ages.  Kingston has made our family realize that often people take their heart for granted until their faced with a health scare or heart disease.  Maintaining Kingston’s health has encouraged each of us to eat better and live more active lifestyles so that we can be here to watch him grow up.  Although I was already an advocate for AHA, I am now an even stronger supporter and educator of their mission to prevent heart disease.

– Elizabeth Foster (Kingston’s Mom)

Kristy Sidlar Michigan

So there I was on the side of the road by myself, lying next to my bicycle. I was fading in and out of consciousness, honestly wondering if these were going to be my last moments. My plans to compete in the triathlon I was training for were far from my mind. What I was thinking was, “Why is this happening? Why today?” It was my 31st birthday.

After about 40 minutes of my heart racing at 280 beats per minute, another cyclist finally rode by and called 911. Paramedics arrived and used an automatic external defibrillator (yep…the shock paddles) to normalize my heartbeat. I was rushed to the hospital where doctors spent 10 days trying to find a diagnosis for my erratic and very fast heat beat. The doctors said, “We can’t fix you, but we can save your life.”

They planned to do a relatively standard procedure called radiofrequency ablation but once they “got in” they realized my heart was riddled with cells that conduct extra impulses, causing rapid heartbeat. The best option available to me at that point wasn’t the ablation; they decided to install an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). It’s a device about the size of a pager that is essentially a set of shock paddles inside my chest. And they prescribed a bunch of meds to get my heart rate under control.

I can hardly believe it’s been almost 15 years since I was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia. At the time I wasn’t really worried about the surgery or the shocks from the ICD. What really tore me up was when the doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to train again. I was a bit of a fitness-crazed young woman, and I couldn’t imagine living without this part of my life.

 I didn’t listen at first. I couldn’t let it go. Finally, after I went flying off a treadmill and into the mirror at the gym when my ICD went off during a running workout, I realized that it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Now I walk, workout at a moderate pace on the elliptical and do yoga. My big mindset shift was: “I don’t have to be competitive. I need to do what keeps me healthy.”

 For 13 years now I have been a volunteer and spokesperson for the American Heart Association. These are my two core messages:

 • You don’t have to be old or fat or eat fried food to be at risk for heart disease.

 • Be proactive with your doctors.

Too often people (women in particular) get dismissed by doctors saying that their irregular heartbeats or high blood pressure are stress related or caused by other factors like pregnancy. Maybe they are…but maybe they AREN’T! My experience with this was a six-month-long pursuit for answers after a fainting episode in my late twenties. I was told I was dehydrated. I was told I hadn’t eaten enough, I was told it was the caffeine. Finally, doctors ran the right tests and determined I had a problem with my right ventricle and they treated me accordingly.

Living a heart healthy life can be both easy and hard. It’s taking those first few steps that are the hard part, but healthy habits can become so easy to live by. Please check out the many resources at heart.org to see how you can know your risks, know your numbers and take the right steps to great heart health. And pass this information on to your friends and family. Every little bit of education helps…everyone!

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