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Stories from Central and Eastern Oregon

Guest Blogger: Sarah Higginbotham, Oregon Government Relations Director

Recently, I have had an opportunity to connect with a special kind of survivor: those who live in rural Oregon.

From Deschutes County in the high desert of Central Oregon, to Umatilla County in the rugged, wheat-growing region of Eastern Oregon, our fellow Oregonians living in these regions face unique challenges when it comes to caring for their health.

Their challenges become even greater when managing the effects of cardiovascular disease or stroke. With fewer hospitals and fewer providers, time and distance to receive care can be much longer.

In particular, I had the great privilege of meeting two incredible women—both survivors living east of Oregon’s more populated western corridor.

Both were willing to discuss their challenges with health care and to stand with the AHA to call for improvements in rural Oregon. They share an impressive self-sufficiency and a deep pride in their community.

Anne of La Pine knows that in addition to ensuring stroke survivors have access to the consistent rehabilitation therapy, access to public transportation is just as important for her and her husband. While she has great admiration for her various medical providers, systematic improvements could be made to help her coordinate care between them.

Cathy, whose family roots go back generations in Umatilla County, will tell you that she doesn’t like to complain—she does the things that need to be done, and knows that things can be even tougher for others. Cathy, like many survivors, has the daunting task of managing multiple prescriptions to treat her heart condition and diabetes. As a caregiver to family members also managing chronic conditions (including her son, a stroke survivor), Cathy also sees to the appointments and needs of her loved ones.

The AHA advocates for the care of all Oregonians with decision makers in DC and in the state—but that advocacy would fall flat if it weren’t for brave survivors like Anne and Cathy being willing to speak up.

We have the deepest gratitude and appreciation for their recent efforts—and I feel lucky to have met them. They took the time and energy to go the extra mile to join our advocacy efforts—and like everything else for them—they had to work go a little further than many of us to do so.

If you are a survivor or know survivors of heart disease or stroke anywhere in Oregon, I would love to hear from you. Please contact me at

Here’s to the survivors in Oregon’s more rugged and absolutely inspiring landscapes!

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Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Guest Blogger: Erica Phung, Senior Government Relations Director, Southern California

If you’re reading this blog – you’ve obviously been thinking about heart-health lately, which is a wonderful thing.  Maybe you walk your dog after work, or even prepare healthy meals for your family or friends.  And just maybe you’ve cut down on the sugar-sweetened beverages.  But what about sodium? 

Sodium you say?  Wait – it couldn’t be all that bad, right?

Sodium is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated in the body by your kidneys, and it helps control your body’s fluid balance. It also helps send nerve impulses and affects muscle function.  But most of us go far over the AHA/ASA guideline of 1,500mg – without even knowing it.

When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total volume of blood inside. With more blood flowing through, blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of gunky plaque that can block blood flow. The added pressure also tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body.  Increased blood pressure is very dangerous – and is known as being the ‘silent killer’ because its symptoms aren’t always obvious. 

Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with high blood pressure, eating less sodium can help blunt the rise in blood pressure that occurs with age, and reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even headaches. The extra water in your body can also lead to bloating and weight gain.

Breaking up is hard to do, especially if it’s with Sneaky Salt.  But we’re here to help.  First, make a pledge to reduce sodium in your diet here, secondly, do a little inventory of the sodium in your daily diet and see how close you are to the 1,500mg benchmark and make an action plan for you and your family.  If you’re stumped, check out the resources and recipes here

One estimate suggested that if Americans moved to an average intake of 1,500 mg/day sodium, it could result in a 25.6 % overall decrease in blood pressure and an estimated $26.2 billion in health care savings!  Another estimate projected that achieving this goal would reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease by anywhere from 500,000 to nearly 1.2 million over the next 10 years!  Breaking up with salt isn’t easy – but it could just save your life!

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Simple Cooking with Heart - Tailgate Chili

Guest Blogger: Erica Phung, Senior Government Relations Director, Southern California

The leaves are changing colors, and your favorite team is on the field. Fall is officially here!  When the weather turns cool, there’s nothing better than a warm, hearty bowl of comforting soup or chili to keep you going.  At Simple Cooking with Heart, we’ve got some great recipes that will keep you satisfied and heart-healthy! Here’s a fun one to try at your next tailgate or game-day party.

Click here to watch the how-to video!

4 Servings; about $3.44 per serving


1 pound 95% lean ground beef (or ground white meat chicken or turkey for a healthier option) 
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium jalapeno, chopped (optional, only if you like spicy chili)
2 teaspoons minced garlic from the jar or 4 cloves minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 
1 (15.5 oz) can no-salt-added or low-sodium pinto or kidney beans, undrained 
1 (14.5 oz) can  no-salt-added or low-sodium diced tomatoes, undrained 
3/4 cup jarred salsa (lowest sodium available)


  1. Spray large saucepan with cooking spray. Cook beef and onion over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly to break up beef. Transfer to colander and rinse with water to drain excess fat. Return beef to pan.
  2. Stir in bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, and cumin, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
  4. Optional – serve topped with low-fat grated cheese, a dollop of fat-free sour cream, sliced avocado, snipped cilantro or chopped green onions.

TIP: if you want 5-alarm chili, add 1 teaspoon Cheyenne pepper

Per serving:



Total Fat 

6.0 g

Saturated Fat 

2.5 g

Trans Fat

0.5 g

Polyunsaturated Fat

0.5 g

Monounsaturated Fat 

2.5 g


62 mg


288 mg


29 g


7 g


8 g


31 g

Dietary Exchanges:  1 starch, 3 vegetable, 3.5 lean meat

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You're the Cure Volunteers in Hawaii Have Jumpstarted the Debate on E-cigarrettes

In case you missed it: our You’re the Cure volunteers in Hawaii jumpstarted the debate about e-cigarettes with an Aug. 25 news conference delivering the association’s new policy statement.

At the AHA press briefing Lila Johnson RN, MPH, program manager of the Hawaii State Department of Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Education Program, was especially eloquent when commenting on the appeal of e-cigarettes among young people. Please click here for the full story.

As the e-cigarette debate continues to gain momentum please take a moment and think about what can you do in your community to make sure the e-cigarette industry’s aggressive and unregulated marketing efforts do not obscure the harmful effects of smoking.  For more information on e-cigarettes and public health click here.

If you are interested in seeing how you can help our efforts, please contact Don Weisman at or contact  Grassroots Director Grace Henscheid.


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Share Your Story: Mark Olson

Mark Olson Richfield, MN

Beware the Ides of March, little did I know that this saying would gain new meaning for me on the morning of March 15th 2008. My wakeup call came in the form of shortness of breath and chest pain the evening of March 14th. I figured I was just having an asthma attack even though the chest pain was new. So I used my inhaler and went to bed having received some relief. Around 3:30 am on the 15th I awoke feeling chest pain again. I immediately dressed and drove to the hospital about 1 mile away.  Boy did I get a lot of grief for driving myself from both family and hospital personnel. The emergency room personnel quizzed me and had me in cardiac care suite within minutes. Tests were run nitroglycerin was administered and a mild heart attack was diagnosed. I was surprised! I was frightened! I was too darn young to have a heart condition.

As I spent the next few days in hospital I learned that I wasn’t too young, that I shouldn’t have been surprised and that in this instance fear is a pretty powerful motivator. In consulting with my family I found that my maternal uncle had experienced a heart attack at the same age. We then began discussing the cardiovascular history of my family and found that my surprise was also misguided. When we started counting heart attacks, strokes and aneurisms in family members there was significant reason for the entire family to look at the one thing we can control lifestyle.

I can’t speak for my entire family but I can certainly share what I have done since my personal Ides of March. In order to live healthier I have added doctor prescribed medication to control cholesterol and blood pressure.  I have made walking a focus of my day. I have made dietary choices that increase heart health a focus of my meal plans. I have eliminated things that caused me stress and added things that bring me happiness. Thanks to my niece I have rediscovered a passion for theater and boy is that fun.  This combination has helped me to reduce my risk and live a happier life.  

Ah, but those personal changes were not enough for me. I wanted to make a difference for my niece, nephews and generations to come. Having dabbled in policy change in my work life, I decided I should use the skills I have gained to change health policy. Yeah, I know, there goes that reducing stress concept right. But I took the leap connected with the American Heart Association and have been a volunteer advocate ever since. Working with AHA staff and volunteers has been a good kind of stress. We have had a lot of victories in Minnesota since I joined the State Advocacy Committee like a smoke-free state, an increase in the state’s tobacco tax, CPR as a graduation requirement for all Minnesota high school students to name a few.  I look forward to having more victories on things like AED registries, comprehensive stroke and STEMI systems and funding a state Safe Routes to School program and I want you to be a part of it. Join the You’re the Cure Network at  and work with me and many others to bring them about.

I’ve made changes to my lifestyle that improves my health. I’ve connected with the health advocacy community to make change happen for everyone. And I can now say that having a heart attack at age 46 has led me to be a healthier happier person.  Follow my lead folks make changes to live healthier and happier but skip the heart attack.  By making changes now you probably will.


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Year in Review: Look What YOU Have Done!

The American Heart Association’s commitment to building a culture of health is why we seek to advance science-based public policy initiatives at the local, state, and federal level. To be successful in this endeavor, we use a combination of legislative strategy, lobbying, and media advocacy, along with the passion and activism of the Association’s grassroots volunteer advocatesour You’re the Cure network. Check out our Year in Review and see what YOU did!

Over the course of the 2013-2014 year, You’re the Cure advocates across our five Great Rivers Affiliate states—Delaware, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia—sent an impressive 42,511 emails in support of our policy issues to lawmakers. Additionally, advocates met face-to-face with their legislators, made phone calls, testified at legislative hearings, spoke with the media, wrote op-eds and letters to the editor in support of our policy issues for a record 5,423 "offline" actions in FY 13-14, an impressive 92% increase over the previous year! These personal, heartfelt activities put a face on our issues and make an enormous impact on elected leaders.

Your dedication to the mission of the American Heart Association puts the "YOU" in You’re the Cure. Your actions helped to advance important public policies that will improve the health of citizens across the Great Rivers Affiliate! Thank you and congratulations on that success!

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Healthy Corner Stores, Healthy Communities, Healthy People!

In some communities in New Jersey, it is easier to find grape soda than an actual grape! In areas that lack easy access to grocery stores, people go to corner stores and other small retailers to buy the items they need to feed their families. Unfortunately, many small business owner face challenges in offering healthy staples like whole grain breads, low fat milk and fresh produce. The American Heart Association is hoping to change that!

We are working with our partners at The Food Trust and New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids to form the New Jersey Healthy Corner Stores Initiative. This initiative will bring in business owners, public health officials and economic development professionals to study the problem and offer solutions. There have been several small, local Healthy Corner Store efforts in various areas of the state and we are looking to expand the success of those programs throughout New Jersey.

Every family in New Jersey deserves access to healthy foods. I will be attending all the Fall Heart Walks in October. If you are there, please feel free to stop by the “You’re the Cure” table to say hi and learn more about this effort. 

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Medical Students Turned Advocates

Peter Evans, Christina Cahill and Lana Khuong know there is more than one way to save a life. They’ve organized CPR trainings, worked on tobacco cessation counseling protocols, coordinated cardiovascular research and fundraisers, and helped create healthy living lessons for adolescents.

They’re studying to become physicians at the University of Vermont’s Medical School, but they know that passing policy can also save lives. Lana said she was eager to become a part of a movement in which the government and civilians join to promote the well-being for all. So, all three have joined the American Heart Association’s Advocacy Committee.  

And we’re glad they did. Just recently, they talked about the dangers of sugary drinks and urged volunteers at the Vermont Heart Walk to sign petitions to Vermont legislators to pass legislation improving the availability and pricing of healthy food. They had a great time doing it and are eager to help us spread the word. Go team advocacy!

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Sharing Your Story Can Save Lives!

There is nothing that brings about public and legislative support for an issue more than a real-life story from someone close to home.

Your personal stories can make our advocacy issues real by putting a face to a cause. Please share your stories about how sugary drinks or obesity have impacted you, your family, students or patients. Just email me at if you have a story to share.

 Sometimes hearing just one story is all it takes to build a champion for an issue. Take, for instance Kristi Soule who shared her story at the Vermont Heart Walk.

 My life was forever changed on August 16, 2012. While out running a familiar 4 mile loop with my partner Luke, I suffered sudden cardiac arrest. I was 35 years young and there is no history of heart disease in my family. With years of CPR and AED training, Luke responded quickly. Drivers passing by retrieved an AED from a nearby business and Luke performed CPR until the emergency responders arrived. His efforts and the care I received from the medical professionals on site and at the hospital couldn't have occurred more perfectly. It was a miracle. Being with someone who knew CPR, and having an AED close by saved my life. Please help support our efforts to get more people CPR trained and make AEDs more accessible across Vermont.

 How could you say no? You wouldn't, I wouldn’t, and neither would a legislator.

 You have a story to tell, and your story can make a difference. Please help us save lives by telling your story. Email me today or give me a call at 802-578-3466 .

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A Victory for Improving Our Communities in the Commonwealth

Complete Streets Will Help Increase Options for Safe Physical Activity and Better Access Healthy Foods. The MA Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced that they are launching a $3 to $5 million pilot project for the Complete Streets Certification Program! This means cities and towns will be able to apply for funding to make local streets safer and more inviting for people to walk, run, and bike. This will result in better health for Massachusetts residents, who will have more opportunities to be active, reducing chronic disease. This is especially true in low-income communities, which currently have fewer places, sidewalks, and bikeways for residents to safely be outdoors and be active. It also supports the state’s goal to triple the number of people that walk, bike and take public transit. 

Thanks to a lot of hard work by you our advocates and our partners we were able to get the MA Legislature to include language from the initial Active Streets bill in the Transportation Bond bill, along with $50 million of bond funding over five years. We worked with MassDOT- urging them to move forward on this new program (and start appropriating the bond-funded money to municipalities) sooner than later. And that’s just what they are doing- launching a pilot project for a brand new program to award upwards of $5 million this year. 

Even with this great news of $5 million, there’s more work to do– and we’ll still need your help-to get the remaining $45 million appropriated and awarded to municipalities. This will be a key opportunity for our new governor in 2015 to be a leader for healthier communities!


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