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American Heart Association Advocate and Board Member Mary Cushman takes her role as an advocate seriously, serving on both the Vermont and National AHA Advocacy Committees.

As a physician and researcher, she knows both are important to preventing lives lost to heart disease and stroke.  But she also knows that advocacy is the third important tool in her war chest to prevent these terrible diseases and save lives through policy change.

Mary has traveled to Washington, DC to urge Vermont's Congressional Delegation to support research funding. She takes action often through the American Heart Association's own www.yourethecure.org advocacy network and has worked on such issues as CPR in Schools, a tobacco tax and sugar sweetened beverage tax and recreational use of school property.  She's been so active, that she is now ranked as a  Hero in our network, having earned over 700 points for her actions in responding to advocacy alerts. Way to go Mary!

The more you take action, the more points you'll earn and the higher your advocacy status will climb! Thanks to Mary and all our advocates for making advocacy a priority.

crafted by Janice Edwards-Jackson, Arizona

I am 34 years old and a stay-at-home mom of 3 children, ages 8, 6, and 3.  On September 21, 2013, I had just returned home after taking my 2 older children to piano lessons.  We were eating lunch when I stood up to warm up my food in the microwave.  The room started spinning.  I thought I was about to have a migraine, since I get them every so often, so I grabbed the counter and made my way back to my seat.  I became sleepy and the spinning would not stop. I told my husband that something was wrong and that I wanted to go to sleep so he helped walk me to the couch and gave me 2 aspirin.  I slept for 3 hours.

2 days later, I went to the doctor and was told it was vertigo/inner ear, but the next day something still didn’t feel right, so I went to the ER at a hospital near my house.  They did a CT scan and MRI and told me I had a brain tumor.  I was terrified.  I was transferred to Barrows Neurological Institute, to confirm the test results, but I was then told that I had a small thalamic stroke.  Learn to spot a stroke FAST by clicking here.

It turns out that my stroke was caused by a congenital heart defect known as PFO (atrial septic defect/hole in the heart). Until this incident, I never knew I had a congenital heart defect (CHD) and a bi-cusped aortic valve.  I went to both physical and cognitive therapy and I currently take 325 mg of aspirin daily. 

Additionally, I had all of my children checked and I found out that my youngest daughter has a PFO as well and that one of her coronary arteries is not completely on the correct side.  The doctor hopes that as her heart grows, that the PFO will close and that the coronary artery will completely move to the correct side.  We are hoping that this will happen by the time she is 5.  If not, she will have to have surgery.

Unfortunately, congenital heart defects are the number one birth defect in newborns.  There are an estimated 500 babies born in Arizona each year with congenital heart defects and of those 125 babies will have a critical congenital heart defect.  Critical congenital heart defects are heart defects that often require major corrective procedures in the first year of an infant’s life.  Thankfully, House Bill 2491 was signed into law by Governor Brewer and now all newborns in Arizona will be screened for CHDs via pulse oximetry screening prior to leaving the hospital.  HB 2491 will save many lives in the future by catching heart defects at the earliest point in life allowing for early detection and treatment.  Visit here for more information.

Karen Dionne, Washington

At age 37, I envisioned my whole life ahead of me as I was planning my wedding to Michael, the man of my dreams.  I was successful at my job as a sales representative at a golf resort.  I was physically active, for fun I played co-ed softball, golf, and tennis.  My life quickly changed in an instant.  One quiet morning, I would leave my old life as I knew it behind and begin my life over struggling to survive as a stroke survivor.

Four months prior to my wedding, I had a hemorrhagic stroke causing paralysis on my left side. I had no known stroke risk factors. Blood pressure was normal, healthy cholesterol, didn’t do drugs, not on birth control pills, and was not overweight. 

On Friday morning March 2, 2007 while making breakfast with my fiancé Michael, I told him that I was feeling dizzy, light headed and I had a severe headache. It felt as if I could pass out.  Warning sign #1.    

As I sat on the couch, I started to feel immediate fatigue. My head was just not right. It started to hurt more.  Warning sign #2.  

I got up and started to walk again. However, this time I stop and just stood there.  I looked down at my feet in disbelief.  I described to Michael that I was looking down at my left foot but I could not feel it. Warning sign #3. 

The sensation quickly traveled up the left side of my body. I could not feel it. It was like it went to sleep without the pins and needles feeling.  Something was terribly wrong.  “Help me!” I exclaimed. 

Michael started putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. He looked at me and asked me to smile. He could see the left side of my facial muscles were not equal to my right side.  Warning sign #4.  

He said to me, “Karen, everything you’re telling me says you’re having a stroke!” This all took less than 5 minutes.

Michael SAVED MY LIFE that day by recognizing that I was having a stroke.  There was no doubt in his mind.  He wasted no time getting me to the emergency room.  A CT Scan revealed I was bleeding in my brain. I was having a hemorrhagic stroke. 

The stroke took many things from me including my lower left quadrant vision. It left me without feeling on my entire left side including in my left hand, I had to learn to walk again and I still have a small limp. With hard work, determination, and complete love and support from my husband Michael, I was able to walk down the aisle four months later on our wedding day. 

I later asked Michael how he knew I was having a stroke. He replied that he read it somewhere but he doesn’t remember where. Only that somewhere he remembered that lifesaving bit of information that he stored in his memory. I say that because everything we do to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke adds up. Even if it’s one person we touch, that one person could save a life someday.  And it could be YOUR life.  Or YOU could save someone you love.

Social media has been a great tool throughout my recovery efforts. During my journey on the road to recovery, I founded a support group for young adult stroke survivors called facebook.com/Reclaiming Ourselves.  Nearly a thousand of young adult stroke survivors from around the world encourage each other online with our goals and successes.  We are also available on Twitter @Stroke_Survior, and Pintrest. 

I volunteer as a Go Red For Women Ambassador with the American Heart Association. I do public speaking throughout my community educating others about the warning signs of heart disease and stroke and controllable risk factors in order to save lives.  As a Go Red For Women Ambassador is not just about heart, it's about stroke too.  Our goal as Ambassadors is to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke in order to reduce deaths from these diseases.  And the focus is not just about Heart month in February, it's about every month, for every woman, for every life.  

Being a voice for the millions of stroke survivors and their families is very important to me. That’s why I’m a You’re The Cure advocate. Recently, I met with our Washington state Governor and other elected officials to discuss tobacco prevention, childhood obesity, safe routes to schools and CPR in schools in order to save lives.  It’s easy to be an advocate and the American Heart Association makes it easy. 

I was honored to be asked to be on the Board of Directors in the South Sound.  It’s another way to give back to my community and support an organization that gives so much to help so many. 

Do I still work on my recovery?  Every day!! I stay very active with my gym membership.  My goal is to work out 4-5 times a week and do physical events such as 5K’s, 10K’s or even half marathons. This year was the second time I completed The Big Climb in Seattle up Columbia Tower (69 flights and 1,311 steps).  I believe there is no finish line.  I’m always looking for ‘what’s next’ and challenge others to join me. 

How do you recognize a stroke?  Remember F.A.S.T. 

F. Face

A. Arms

S. Speech

T. Time call 9-1-1 immediately

Please, make it your mission to educate yourself on the warning signs of stroke so you can be there for the ones you love. And make it your mission to educate the ones you love so they can be there for you. 

Karen Dionne, Stroke Survivor

Mark Dunham, Idaho

I have been a lobbyist in Idaho since 1984. I was the CEO of the Idaho Association of REALTORS for almost 20 years, BSU’s lobbyist for 3 years, the Vice President of IACI, and starting in November of 2007, I was the Executive Director of the Idaho Associated General Contractors.

On January 10, 2012, I was getting ready for work when I had a stroke. Three days later I had another massive stroke that left me paralyzed on my right side. That was devastating, but the worst part was that I could not communicate at all. Imagine being trapped in your head wondering if I would die and leave my wife and my 6 year old son.

I was in St. Al’s for 18 days, and then I had many months of intensive therapy just so I could talk. My paralysis subsided, but I still have vision loss. Even now, I go to therapy two days a week.

I was a healthy 50 year old when my strokes happened. I assumed that strokes happened to “old people who smoked and were not healthy.”

Second chances in life are rare. I believe that I can help survivors and their families by spreading the word that a stroke can happen to anyone.

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