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Share Your Story: Michelle Allen

Michelle Allen Rockford, IL

Ten years ago I lost my 37 year old husband to heart disease (at the time, our children were ages 1 and 3). Five years prior to that, I lost my father to heart disease. These losses compelled me to do all that I can to become involved in raising awareness about heart disease, ultimately leading me to return to school to receive my Bachelor of Nursing degree, seeking to inform and educate my patients and families about heart disease risks and preventative measures. I also hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and it is my hope that I can utilize my education along with my life experiences to educate and advocate for those affected by this disease.

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Results of Public Opinion Poll Show Illinoisans Support Daily Physical Education

Last month, advocates from across the state gathered in Springfield to draw attention to the importance of daily P.E. in Illinois schools. The American Heart Association participated in a press event on March 19 annoucing the latest polling results that showcase strong support by Illinois residents for daily P.E. Illinois Advocacy Committee member Beth Mahar spoke on behalf of the American Heart Association at the press event. Below is the news release from the event.

 A new poll shows the majority of Illinoisans support Physical Education (P.E.). Representatives from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the American Heart Association, the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (IAHPERD) and the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity (IAPO) gathered at the Illinois State Capitol today to discuss details from a public opinion poll commissioned by ACS CAN on physical education requirements in Illinois.

Results of the poll, conducted by FAKO Research & Strategies, show the majority of respondents believe physical educational requirements are a high priority at all grade levels, with four out of five (80 percent) expressing that P.E. should be required at every grade level and to graduate from high school.

Illinois health organizations agree. "Quality daily physical education that engages both the mind and body leads to enhanced academic performance," said Mark Kattenbraker, past president of IAHPERD.

The poll also showed that Illinois voters strongly support current physical education requirements. At this time, P.E. is required for all students in grades K- 12. However, the state permits substitutions, like team sports, Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, etc., to replace the requirement. A school district can also apply for a one-time, two-year waiver for P.E., which can then be extended for up to six years.

"Physical education is key to our kids’ and our state’s long-term health," said Rhonda Pour, ACS CAN volunteer. "Obesity and inactivity already account for 1 in 3 cancer deaths in this country and at current rates, obesity threatens to surpass tobacco use as the number one preventable cause of cancer."

Poll participants were also asked about potential changes to P.E. requirements, which would limit waivers, prevent substitutions and require highly-qualified P.E. specialists as teachers. The majority of voters polled support the changes to the current P.E. requirements.

"Many of us who have been working on the issue of P.E. over a period of decades have noticed a positive shift in culture over the last few years. Even as some Illinois schools have mounted a campaign to cut P.E., people seem to value physical education more and more. These polling results only confirm that," said Elizabeth Mahar, a retired physical educator and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. "In this age of 24-hour health clubs and personal trainers, adults increasingly see P.E. as an important life-long health issue for their children -- a sharp contrast with their own old-fashioned ‘dodge ball in gym’ experience. And as they begin to understand that quality PE is a way to immunize their kids against a life-long struggle with obesity and chronic disease, parents begin to see PE as necessary rather than an optional."

ACS CAN, the American Heart Association, IAPHERD, the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity and other health officials throughout the state are calling on legislators to protect current P.E. standards and to make physical education a priority.

"We work with dozens of community coalitions around the state through our Healthy and Active Communities network, and they are making school programs like P.E. a critical priority for developing healthy kids, and thus, healthy adults," said Elissa Bassler, Executive Director, Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, and CEO, Illinois Public Health Institute. "Our community partners are working with parents, advocates and school officials on strengthening P.E."

"Today’s P.E. standards are not enough to combat the current obesity epidemic and to teach our kids how to be healthy for a lifetime," said Pour.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) recommends that states require all school districts to develop and implement a curriculum that adheres to national and state standards for physical education for a minimum of 150 minutes per week in elementary and 225 minutes per week in middle and high schools.

FAKO Research & Strategies, Inc., of Lisle, IL, interviewed a random sample of 600 registered voters in Illinois by both phone and mobile phone.

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April Update from Springfield

Below is a legislation update from Alex Meixner, Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association.

All – we have some good progress to report in Springfield on the systems-of-care front, as Illinois’ annual spring legislative session rolls on.  So without further ado:

First off, our stroke legislation (House Bill 5742) passed the House Human Services Committee on March 26, setting the stage for a vote on the House Floor in the coming weeks!  HB 5742 is the product of a collaborative effort between the AHA/ASA, the IL Critical Access Hospital Network, Stroke Survivors Empowering Each Other, and the IL State Stroke Advisory Committee (the official advisory body to the IL Dept. of Public Health on stroke care matters), and would serve to improve stroke care throughout the state.  Amongst other provisions, the bill would: allow the state to recognize Comprehensive Stroke Centers; bring IL’s Emergent Stroke Ready hospitals in line with the new national Acute Stroke Ready standards, and; institute a modest stroke hospital designation fee to pay for a statewide stroke registry and other stroke-related activities within the IL Dept. of Public Health. 

Yesterday’s successful vote was also the product of weeks negotiations with the IL Hospital Association which ultimately made the bill stronger. While we never want to count our legislative chickens too soon (especially since it’ll need to pass at least four more votes before being sent to the governor), things are looking good so far. I also want to take a moment to applaud the incredible work of our terrific stroke volunteers like Shyam Prabhakaran, Peggy Jones, Bob Biggins, Lisa Bartlett, Liz Kim, Jack Franaszek, and Lesley Cranick (just to name a few), our partner organizations like SSEEO, the Midwest Stroke Action Alliance, and the State Stroke Advisory Committee, and of course our terrific QI staff Kathleen O’Neill and Robin Hamann.

Second, the CPR/AED training in schools legislation (HB 3724) recently passed the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. Specifically, HB 3724 would require all IL high-schools to include CPR and AED training in their base curriculum, representing a major step forward for CPR/AED training in Illinois. That said, even (hopefully!) with this bill’s eventual passage, there will still be additional work to do next year to get us our ultimate goal of ensuring that every IL high-school students receives CPR and AED training prior to graduation. 

 At the hearing, two Illinois families spoke out in favor of mandatory CPR training. The first, represented by George, Mary, and Matt Laman, spoke movingly about Lauren Laman (George and Mary’s daughter, Matt’s sister), a high-school senior from St. Charles, IL who went into sudden cardiac arrest during dance team practice in her school gym. While there was an AED in the building, no one knew how to use it, and by the time EMS arrived it was too late.  Next came Harry and Brigette Bell, who told the committee about the night earlier this year when Eric Bell (Harry’s father and Brigette’s husband) went into sudden cardiac arrest at home. Luckily, Harry had received CPR training during his freshman year of high-school, and knew exactly what to do. While his mother called 9-1-1, Harry began chest compressions, which ultimately saved his father’s life. According to Dr. Anand Ramanathan, who treated Eric upon arrival at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, "the CPR kept him alive until help got there.  The hospital intervention was after the fact, frankly. The main reason he’s alive today is because of the CPR he received at home." Those twin stories made clear for committee members the incredible life-saving value of CPR and AED training (see the attached photo of the Lamans and the Bells along with bill sponsor Rep. Dan Burke). The support of AHA/ASA volunteers, partner organizations like the IL EMS Alliance, IL Heart Rescue, and various IL fire and EMS organizations was crucial to achieving this major step forward. 

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Illinois EMS Alliance which we and so many of our volunteers have worked hard to build over the last 18 months is starting to show some real muscle in the Capitol. In addition to helping us build both political support and (even more importantly) implementation capacity for the CPR/AED training bill, the Alliance and the various EMS stakeholders it represents are making themselves heard on a range of emergency healthcare-related issues in Springfield. To point out just one, earlier this week leaders from the IL EMS Alliance put out a call for EMS agencies and EMS professionals around the state to voice their support for SB 3414, a bill which will help bring IL’s EMS education, training and licensure systems up to national standards (which is crucial because the emergency medical care provided by EMTs is only as good as the education and training they receive). The IL Dept. of Public Health has been trying to pass this bill for several years without success, and it seemed all too likely that it would once again die a quiet death in the Senate Public Health Committee on Tuesday, with only a handful of witness slips filed in support of the bill as of Monday afternoon. Within just a few hours of the appeals from IL EMS Alliance leaders, however, 123 witness slips had been filed in support of the bill (compared to just 3 opposed), most filed on behalf of local EMS systems, hospitals, fire protection districts, and state-wide healthcare associations. Thanks in part to this overwhelming support, the bill passed easily through a committee.  This was a huge show of strength for EMS in Illinois, and a big step forward for the political credibility of the IL EMS Alliance. 

As always, thank you for signing those petition cards, filing those electronic witness slips, and taking those You’re the Cure action alerts!  It really does make a difference!

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Share Your Story: Tracy Green

Tracy Green Springfield, IL

My name is Tracy Green and I am a stroke survivor. On November 10, 2007 I was buying a new car but was not feeling well. I waited to fill out the paperwork but continued feeling worse. As the dealership closed, they drove me home knowing I could not drive. I was in my apartment for almost 2 days before people found me as my speech was gone. At the hospital, they diagnosed stroke. The next day my employer fired me. The day after that he took my health insurance away. Was I depressed and frustrated? Yes. Seven months of out-patient speech therapy allowed me to get about 85% of my speech back but I notice my speech going haywire when I get tired.

Currently I am President of Lincolnland Stroke Support Network (LSSN) in Springfield, IL. We are over 100 members in our directory, and unfortunately, we continue to grow. I tell people all the time that I did not want to have a stroke but without it I would not have had the chance to meet all of these inspirational survivors in our group. I am a volunteer with the AHA/ASA in Springfield. I attended this year's Heart Ball and will be involved in May's Stroke Walk.

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CPR Training at the Illinois Statehouse

American Heart Association volunteers led by AHA Illinois Advocacy Committee member J.R. Dietl taught over 100 Capitol staff how to save a life last month by training them in CPR and AED use.  With the legislature in recess that week, legislative and Capitol building staff took advantage of a comparably quiet afternoon in Springfield by attending the training, which the AHA puts on every-other year.  And advocates took this opportunity to not only train staff in this life-saving skill but also talk about Lauren's Law - training all Illinois high school students in CPR before graduation.

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Major Stroke Legislation Introduced in Illinois

Major new stroke legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate with the goal of keeping stroke care in Illinois moving forward.  Drafted by special committee of stroke professionals from across the state, including several AHA/ASA volunteers, House Bill 5742 and Senate Bill 3520 are progressing towards committee votes soon.  We have been hard at work gathering support for the bills, and supporters now include the official Illinois State Stroke Advisory Committee, the Illinois Dept. of Public Health, the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network, the Midwest Stroke Action Alliance, and Stroke Survivors Empowering Each Other.  Amongst other provisions, the legislation would allow the state to recognize Comprehensive Stroke Centers and would fund the creation of a much-needed state stroke registry (an important quality improvement tool which will help ensure that stroke care continues to improve in all areas of the state).

If you are interested in helping us pass this life-saving legislation, please contact me at

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Lauren's Law Heard in the House Education Committee

Last week, Lauren's Law, HB 3724, was heard in front of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. This bill would ensure all Illinois high schools students were trained in CPR and AED use prior to high school graduation. It is named in honor of Lauren Laman who tragically lost her life to sudden cardiac arrest during high school drill team practice because those around her did not know how to perform CPR or use an AED that was available to them.

Lauren's family, including her father George, mother Mary and brother Matt attended the hearing and spoke to the committee on the importance of this life-saving legislation and teaching high school students this important skill that could have saved their daughter and sister.

Also, testifying before the committee was Harry and Bridgette Bell. On the evening of January 13, 2014, a 50 year-old father of four named Eric Bell suddenly fell to the floor of his Elmhurst, IL home due to SCA, just as Lauren had a few years earlier. In this case, however, Eric’s son Harry, a 17 year-old high-school junior, had recently received basic CPR and AED training at school. Harry sprang into action and began performing CPR as his mother called 9-1-1. EMS crews arrived a few minutes later to administer an AED and transport Eric to the hospital. Thanks to Harry’s bravery and CPR training, Eric survived and has made a full recover. According to Dr. Anand Ramanathan, who treated Eric upon arrival at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, "the CPR kept him alive until help got there. The hospital intervention was after the fact, frankly. The main reason he’s alive today is because of the CPR he received at home."

Lauren's Law successfully passed out of committee thanks to our wonderful advocate testimony. Stay tuned ways you can help this life-saving legislation continue to move closer to becoming a law.

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Share Your Story: Lori Cooper

Lori Cooper Hudson, IL

On August 23, 2007 my life changed forever. I may not look like someone who has experienced heart disease, most people think men, overweight, smokers and people who don’t exercise. I just didn’t fit the bill. On that hot August day, I came home from work, lightheaded, sweating profusely, coughing and heart racing. My husband rushed me to the hospital where I was admitted and diagnosed with congestive heart failure. The disease that killed my father.

I couldn’t believe it. but going back several weeks ahead of this date, I was experiencing symptoms which were frantically waving red flags at me, but I ignored and blamed them on other things going on, like the summer temperatures, premenopausal symptoms, etc… I was having shortness of breath from walking up the stairs at work, my heart rate was well over 150 resting and I had gained some weight, which all women do, and I had a cough, not a normal cough but one where there was a white foaming substance. I was too busy at work and at home with 3 daughters to be sick…an excuse that too many women use. After an EKG and chest x-ray and a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, they brought in the man who would save my life, my cardiologist. He ran an Echocardiogram and told me that I did in fact have heart failure and cardio myopathy. My heart was enlarged, the valves were regurgitating blood, there was about 20 pounds of fluid around my heart and lungs and I would most likely need a defibrillator inserted near my heart and a heart transplant in the near future. He explained to me about the Ejection fraction, which is the capacity at which your heart is pumping. Normal was around 50-70, and mine was only 20. I knew it was bad, I could see it from the look on his face and his tone, and the other doctors and nurses in the room. I asked my doctor if my husband needed to go and get my girls, and did I need to say my goodbyes? He told me that I got there in time, but to live with heart failure I would need to go through some lifestyle changes.

The next day I had a cardiac catheterization, which showed no blockage at all. A lot of people talk about the physical illness itself, but there is the other part which is just as important, the psychological/emotional side. I had what I thought received a “death sentence”. I was basically waiting to die. I couldn’t even think about planning anything for the future…vacations, my birthday, Christmas. I knew in my mind I wouldn’t be around. Depression can get ugly, and my doctor noticed it right off the bat and got me on medication to help that side of it. Then there was the fear…fear of dying and not seeing my youngest start kindergarten, not see any of my girls graduate from high school, get married, and drive a car. Missing everything in their lives.

Then one day it dawned on me, I could beat this, the fears that had scared me about dying, were now the ones that were going to make me fight for my life. I was on a low salt diet, aggressive drug regime, and I started walking every day again. I gave up caffeine which was a daily staple. I was actually starting to feel pretty darn good. I was told the first 6 months are the critical ones. My progress during this time is what I would have to live with. An Echocardiogram at the 6 month point would show what my fate would be. Would I need a defibrillator inserted into my chest to restart my heart if it failed? Would I need a transplant? When February 2008 arrived, an increase of 5% on my Ejection Fraction would be good my doctor told me. Improvement? OMG!!!! I called for the results and found out that not only did I improve 5%, I had improved from 20% to 50%. Normal, I actually heard the word normal.

My future is bright, I feel better than I ever have. I have hiked in numerous National Parks and just zip-lined in the Smoky Mountains for the first time. I will always take medication, consume a low salt diet, and exercise. Heart Failure is a chronic disease and there is no cure, but it is treatable, and you can live a long and rewarding life, and I am living proof of that. I survived for a reason, and if by telling my story, someone will learn more about heart disease or I can help one patient or family members through their struggles of dealing with heart disease and the lifestyle changes it brings with it, then I feel like I have really done what I am here to do.

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Big Changes in Store for Food Labels

After more than two decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing sweeping changes to the nutrition labels on packaged foods.

The proposals would require food manufacturers to list added sugars, nutrition counts for more-realistic portion sizes and total nutrition information for multiple servings of food within a single package.  The government also wants to require potassium and vitamin D to be listed.

The changes are being released on Thursday during a critical time in the U.S. A third of all adults in the nation are obese, increasing the risk for high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Another third of Americans are overweight.

“Eating healthy is a habit all Americans need to have and the FDA’s new nutrition labels will help put that goal within reach,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said. “By arming consumers with more knowledge about nutritional content, calories and serving sizes, the new labeling information proposed by the FDA takes an important step toward improving the health of all Americans.”

Despite the recent news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that obesity has declined by 43 percent for children ages 2 to 5, it has not changed significantly for adults or the larger pool of kids ages 2 to 19.

Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults. And obesity in children is causing a health problems that used to be seen only in adults, like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

Changes to nutrition labels will take time. The FDA will collect comments for 90 days on its proposed new rules from food manufacturers, the general public and nutrition and health advocates. It will consider clarifications or changes based on the comments, then give food manufacturers time to reprint their labels and replace existing inventory.

“These new labels will empower consumers with a valuable source of nutrition information, and the American Heart Association commends the FDA for proposing these changes,” Brown said.

Proposed changes include:

Added sugars: for the first time, added sugars will be on the nutrition facts panel. Previously, naturally-occurring and added sugars were combined into a single listing of “total sugars.” This will allow consumers to know how much sugar has been added by the manufacturer. The AHA recommends that women consume a maximum of 100 calories a day from added sugars, or 25 grams, and men consume 150 calories a day, or 37.5 grams.

“The addition of added sugars to the Nutrition Facts Panel is a giant step forward,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee and professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “High intakes of added sugars are associated with many risk factors for heart disease including obesity, high blood pressure, inflammation and elevated triglyceride levels. A recent study demonstrated an association between high intakes of added sugars and death from cardiovascular disease. Consumers want to know how much sugar has been added during the processing or preparation of foods so they can make wise decisions about the foods they eat.”

Serving sizes: Adjusted for 17 categories of foods to better reflect what people are actually consuming. For example, ice cream will go from ½ cup to 1 cup; muffins and bagels will go from ½ to 1; and beverages will go from 8 ounces to 12 oz. This gives people a more realistic idea of what they’re actually consuming in a single sitting, so they can better monitor what they’re eating and make healthier choices.

Sodium: This will be adjusted slightly to reflect a 2,300 milligram daily value, which is the maximum amount per day recommended in the dietary guidelines for someone consuming a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet. The American Heart Association recommends that the ideal sodium consumption, especially for people trying to lower their blood pressure, is 1,500 mg. per day.  “There is strong scientific evidence that indicates lowering sodium reduction can result in significant reductions in blood pressure,” Brown said. ”Therefore, the association will continue to recommend sodium intake to be limited to 1,500 milligrams a day. We intend to work with the FDA, during this 90-day comment period and beyond if need be, to highlight the increased benefits from further sodium reductions and to advocate for stronger action.”

Package size: Like serving sizes, package sizes will be labeled more accurately. So a large muffin or bottle of soda will have nutrition information for the entire package.

Per serving and per package: If a package has 2-4 servings in it, the label will be required to show nutrition information per serving and per package. This helps make it clear when the package has multiple servings inside.

Calories bigger and bolder: Although the format of the label won’t change dramatically, calories and serving sizes will be emphasized with a bigger and bolder font. This may help people make healthier choices by knowing what they’re consuming.

Nutrient listings: The amount of potassium and vitamin D will now be required, calcium and iron will remain and vitamins A and C will be optional. When the nutrition label was last updated 20 years ago, health officials were more concerned about people getting enough of vitamins A and C, but attention now is on potassium and D.

Want to help inform friends & family about these changes?  Share this graphic on Facebook.

For more information:

FDA announcement

AHA CEO Nancy Brown's Statement

Understanding food nutrition labels

American Heart Association Nutrition Center 

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Breaking News: Healthy Eating Active Living Act Introduced in Springfield

On February 19, the American Heart Association, as a member of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, supported the introduction of the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Act at a press event in Springfield.  The HEAL Act would raise revenue for wellness and Medicaid through a penny-per ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.  

The bill was introduced by Rep. Robyn Gabel and Sen. Mattie Hunter (HB 5690 and SB 3524) to fight the Illinois obesity epidemic and invest in our residents' health.  The HEAL Act is estimated to raise over $600 million for prevention and health care.  

"We know our communities are suffering from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  It is critically important to generate revenue to invest in solutions to these complex problems, especially in communities that are burdened the most by these diseases," said Representative Robyn Gabel (D-18th District).  

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single biggest source of added sugar in the American diet.  Each day, more research continues to show the harmful and dangerous impacts of sugar. Sugar found in sugar sweetened beverages not only raises one's risk for chronic disease and obesity, the human and financial toll is a burden we can no longer afford.   

Studies show that an excise tax like the one in the bill may reduce consumption of sugary beverages. A study in Illinois found that in just one year, the excise tax could lead to a 9.3% reduction of childhood obesity, could reduce 3,400 new cases of diabetes, and may save taxpayers more than $150 million in state and private healthcare spending.  

More information about the HEAL Act is available via factsheets on the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity's website. More information about the health impact of sugary beverages can be found here.  

As we work to support this bill during session, please let us know if you have any questions or if you are willing to help support the HEAL Act by emailing us here.

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