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Share Your Story: Ardon Brandt

Ardon Brandt Iowa

I was a first-time mom-to-be.  I was 11 days overdue.  I was impatient.  I wanted to meet my baby.

After 34 hours of labor my nurse came racing into my room. She was moving the baby monitor around and getting agitated; she could not find my baby’s heartbeat. The OB was called in and I was being prepped for an emergency c-section. When Ardon arrived, he was rushed out of the room. No one would tell me what was wrong. Once I was moved out of OR and into my room, a team of doctors came in to give us the news. We were told that they used “every resource they had” just to stabilize him. Ardon was facing a constant threat of cardiac and respiratory arrest and if he took even half a step back, they did not think they could save him. Ardon could not encounter any stimulation – not sight, not sound, not touch.  Stimulation could elevate his heart rate and send him into immediate cardiac arrest.  So, the question was – do they risk keeping him and hoping he stays stable or do they risk a helicopter flight to get him to a higher-level and more experienced hospital?  It was decided to call in the flight-for-life and transfer him immediately.

When a nurse asked me what she could do for me, I answered, “Please just take care of my baby.” Unknown to me at the time, it was then that my mother decided to take care of her baby. She pulled my doctor into the hallway and told her, “If want to do something for that mother, you will get her in to see her baby because she may never see him alive!”  The nursery was cleared out and my bed was rolled in so I could see my son before the helicopter arrived.

Two hours later Ardon was ready for lift-off. The EMT that would travel with Ardon came into my room.  When asked what to expect she responded, “Judging from his condition, if he survives the helicopter trip he will be in NICU for 3 to 6 months”.  My world collapsed in on itself; terror ripped through me like I had never felt before.  I heard the “IF”.  I might lose my baby.

I was transported by ambulance to join Ardon.  He handled the flight well and I was able to visit him in NICU the next morning. Whenever I visited, I would stand behind him so that he would not see my cry.  I wanted him to see a mom that was strong, not scared. One of his nurses asked me why I didn’t talk to him. I did not think I could without risking sending him into arrest.  She explained to me that low, quiet sounds were safe and that he needed to know I was there for him. I leaned over and whispered, “Hello, Sunshine…”  He opened his eyes and he tried to find me! What a moment that was!  We were then taught how to carefully place our hand on his head while watching his vital signs and, should he “crash”, how to remove our hand in a way so as to minimize stimulation. When Ardon was one week old I was able to hold him for the first time. It was absolutely amazing!  When Ardon was 3 weeks old we were able to bring him home.

During my follow-up appointment I learned what happened the day he was born.  There was a blood clot in the umbilical cord that cut him off from his oxygen supply and sent him into distress.  So many things went wrong when he was born but the vitally important things went right.  Without the research and professional training and education provided by the American Heart Association, Ardon would not have lived more than a few minutes.

Ardon is now a strong, healthy 17-year old and will forever be My Sunshine.

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A Heartfelt Thanks

Each year, we like to pause and give thanks during National Volunteer Week (April 6th-12th) for the amazing contributions of volunteers like you.  We know you have a choice when deciding which organization to dedicate your time and talents to and we’re honored you’ve chosen to contribute to the American Heart Association’s mission.  Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to meet many You’re the Cure advocates in person to say ‘thanks’, but since getting together isn’t always possible, I wanted to share this special video highlighting the progress you’ve made possible.

(Please visit the site to view this video) 

You’ll see we are making strides to create smoke-free communities across the country, develop the next generation of life-savers trained in CPR, and ensure all students have healthy meal choices in schools.  The effort you’ve made to contact your lawmakers, share your story, and spread the word through your social networks have led to those successes and more. In fact, in just the last eight months, You’re the Cure advocates have helped contacted local, state, and federal lawmakers more than 140,000 times and it’s these messages that can lead to policy wins.

So take a moment to pat yourself on the back and enjoy a job well done!  I look forward to continuing our efforts to pursue policy changes that will help build healthier communities and healthier lives for all Americans. We couldn’t do it without you – thanks!

- Clarissa

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Register for an Iowa Heart Walk Near You!

We would like to invite you to participate in a 2014 Heart Walk near you!  The Heart Walk is the American Heart Association's premiere event for raising funds to save lives from this country's No. 1 and No. 4 killers - heart disease and stroke. Designed to promote physical activity and heart-healthy living, the Heart Walk creates an environment that's fun and rewarding for the entire family. This year, more than 1 million walkers will participate in nearly 350 events. Your participation will help us raise even more in our fight to save lives. Walk with friends, family, coworkers or strangers you'll bond with along the way.

Find the nearest Heart Walk near you in the list below and then click the REGISTER HERE link to create a Community Team, join an existing team or sign-up as an individual. 

Participating in a Heart Walk is a great way to help fund and support the life-saving mission of the American Heart Association. Plus, raising money for others can earn you prizes. See the complete listing and thanks for your support!

2014 Iowa Heart Walks

Plymouth Sioux County Heart Walk – Orange City, IA - Sat, Apr. 12th starting at 9:30am – REGISTER HERE

Johnson Co. Heart Walk – Iowa City, IA - Sat, May 3rd starting at 8:00am – REGISTER HERE

Dubuque County Heart Walk – Dubuque, IA - Sat, May 3rd starting at 9:00:00 AM – REGISTER HERE

Cedar Valley Heart Walk – Cedar Falls, IA - Sat, May 17th starting at 8:00am – REGISTER HERE

Quad Cities Heart Walk – Rock Island, IL - Sat, May 17th starting at 8:00am – REGISTER HERE

Siouxland Heart Walk – Sioux City, IA - Sat, Jun. 7th starting at 7:30am – REGISTER HERE

Greater Des Moines Heart Walk – Des Moines, IA - Sat, Jun. 14th starting at 8:00am – REGISTER HERE

Linn County Heart Walk – Cedar Rapids, IA - Sat, Aug. 2nd starting at 8:00am – REGISTER HERE

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Share Your Story: Renee Stringer

Renee Stringer Iowa

My heart issues became apparent in 2002 when I was having episodes where my heart would race to the point where my body would cough excessively until my heart would resume to normal. The episodes had been occurring for a couple of years, however I didn’t worry about them until the recurrences increased dramatically, sometimes multiple times a week and lasting anywhere from 5 seconds to 45 minutes.
Seeking medical attention for this problem started my journey of heart issues and discovering that I had some birth defects that I had no idea existed. During my cardiac work up they found that I had an extra electronic pathway, a bicuspid aortic valve and the early stages of an aneurysm developing in my aortic ascending arch next to my heart. My faith in God gave me the strength to handle the diagnosis. In January 2003 I underwent an ablation to burn the heart muscle where the extra electricity was being sent.  This procedure kept my heart from racing and was successful but still continued to have my heart monitored.
In 2009 I developed issues of chest discomfort and shortness of breath and overall just not feeling well. Further testing showed that my right coronary artery was not in the correct place, called an anomalous artery.  It was felt at that time that the aneurysm was pressing on my coronary artery causing me to have the symptoms similar to that of a heart attack without actually having a heart attack. The doctors were able to control the pressure through medication.  My family and I continued to trust God to take care of my heart and to help us deal with the emotional stress.
My heart conditions are genetic and I inherited them from my dad. On November 22, 2010, my dad underwent bypass surgery with the plan to include repair/replacement of his aortic artery for his aneurysm. He did not survive the surgery. In December of 2011 I went through 2 days of testing and doctor’s appointments. The doctors at Mayo Clinic agreed that my right coronary artery was being compressed by my aneurysm and that I needed to have surgery to correct this problem. If not corrected I would have a heart attack that I wouldn’t survive.
I was scheduled for surgery on January 6, 2012, at Mayo Clinic to replace my heart valve and replace the aneurysm section of my aortic artery. On January 5, 2012, I underwent a pre-surgery angiogram with an unusual result. The doctors did not find anything wrong with my right coronary artery like originally thought.  Another scan proved that my right coronary artery was indeed in the proper place. They told us they have no medical explanation; however my family and I know that the Great Physician corrected the problem. I was sent home and continue to have Mayo Clinic monitor my aneurysm.
I live my life as normal as possible with the support of my family. I’m thankful for the medical advances that God allows so that we can seek treatment for our health concerns. I look forward to American Heart Association continuing their progress in developing new surgical techniques to improve the effects on a patient when they undergo major heart surgery and also for the development of ways to monitor your health so that a person can do their part in trying to maintain a healthy life. If or when I might have surgery for my remaining heart issues I want the doctors to have the best medical advances available.

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New York Times article "E-Cigarettes, by Other Names, Lure Young and Worry Experts"

Olivia Zacks, 17, recently took a drag of peach-flavored vapor from a device that most people would call an e-cigarette.

But Ms. Zacks, a high school senior, does not call it that. In fact, she insists she has never even tried an e-cigarette. Like many teenagers, Ms. Zacks calls such products "hookah pens" or "e-hookahs" or "vape pipes."

These devices are part of a subgenre of the fast-growing e-cigarette market and are being shrewdly marketed to avoid the stigma associated with cigarettes of any kind. The products, which are exploding in popularity, come in a rainbow of colors and candy-sweet flavors but, beneath the surface, they are often virtually identical to e-cigarettes, right down to their addictive nicotine and unregulated swirl of other chemicals.

The emergence of e-hookahs and their ilk is frustrating public health officials who are already struggling to measure the spread of e-cigarettes, particularly among young people. The new products and new names have health authorities wondering if they are significantly underestimating use because they are asking the wrong questions when they survey people about e-cigarettes.

**Follow this link to read the rest of this article on the New York Times website.

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Share Your Story: Jane Wolf

Jane Wolf Iowa

On May 3, 2006, I collapsed at home. My heart, after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery two weeks prior, quit. Due to forces I can only understand as divine, my heart started again on its own and allowed time for an ambulance to arrive. To this day, I have no recollection of making the 911 call.

The timing of these two separate events (my surgery and collapse) causes me too often pause and thank the powers of heaven for so clearly showing me the preciousness of life. My survival was a miracle. By “miracle” I don’t necessarily mean an inexplicable occurrence or some phenomenal coincidence. In this case, I mostly mean the miracle of medical knowledge. An honest to God miracle that allows me to live in an age where some of the world’s once most deadly infections are now virtually nonexistent, and where a stopped heart doesn’t automatically mean sudden death.

The American Heart Association is in the business of funding miracles just like the ones that saved my life. In fact, I believe the American Heart Association is where the particular miracle of my heart began. The money they raised made it possible for my cardiologist to diagnose the blockages in my 39 year old heart caused by nearly 30 years of Type 1 diabetes along with an unfortunate genetic propensity to develop heart disease. My doctors wouldn’t even have KNOWN what vascular problems to look for had it not been for their education and training specifically related to my particular heart dysfunction. My team of surgeons, nurses, and the myriad other medical support staff wouldn’t have known how to open my body, reach in and apply the fixes that have kept my heart running to this day. All because of the miracle that IS the American Heart Association - an organization largely responsible for the continuous and ground breaking research into how the human heart works, why it fails, and how it can be fixed.

Many miracles aren’t easy to come by, and mine weren’t either. Despite the diligent and ceaseless care I was provided, I still had complications from the major trauma of open heart surgery. That’s when I collapsed at home and was rushed back to Mercy for my miracle to be completed. My medical team was at the ready, alert to the complications that could arise and ready to fine-tune the amazing healing they had already facilitated. It wasn’t easy, as my hours of unconsciousness and dependency on artificial life support can attest, but the answers were there, waiting to be found by the only and most competent people that could find them. Their presence and skill were my miracles. Their care, intelligence, passion and support made it possible for me to grasp the thinnest vestige of mortal thread and pull myself back to this life. A life I have so much more to experience and, through which, to give.

I am now 46 years old. I’ve lived through the heart disease related deaths of my older brother, Steve, when he was 37, and that of my 67 year old father, Ron. Last year, I also lost my mom, Janet, who was my strength and hope through the most defining events of my life including having Type 1 diabetes, the birth of my children, the loss of my brother and dad, my heart surgery, and most recently, her own death after a 10-year battle with cancer. She lived with my husband and me during her last year, and her gift of undying hope has seen me through the loss of her sweet light and companionship. Without her I know I would never be able to overcome a victim’s skepticism and fear, nor would I be able to fully recognize the miracles in this life. Not just the miracles of surviving atherosclerosis and heart failure, but also the miracles of having a strong mind, enduring faith, two healthy children, a loving husband, and most recently, being present for the birth of my beautiful grandson, Noah.

Thank you American Heart Association for making the past six years of my life possible. Thank you for making it possible for me to live long enough to wake up to miracles. But mostly, thank you for making it possible for me to live the miracle of my life.

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In Memory of Rekisha Harris

*Guest Blogger Kevin Harker, Executive Vice President, Midwest Affiliate shares a story about loss. And while it’s difficult to read a story that doesn’t have a happy ending, it’s important that the story still gets told …. because the unfortunate reality is that heart disease is still killing one woman every minute.

Rekisha Harris was 32 years old in 2011 when she was first diagnosed with a congenital heart defect called non-compaction. At first, doctors thought it was post-partum cardiomyopathy, as she’d just given birth to her third child a few weeks earlier. But further testing revealed that it was much more critical. Her only treatment option was a heart transplant.

While waiting in the hospital for a suitable donor, Rekisha underwent emergency open heart surgery to implant an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) to help her heart beat. And then, a week later, she had a second emergency open heart surgery to remove a blood clot. Finally, a week before Christmas of 2011, she received her new heart. After nearly nine months in the hospital, she was able to return home to her family in January of 2012.

"Each one of my kids said for Christmas, all they wanted was for me to get a heart," Rekisha said in 2012. "They’re like, ‘we just want you to get a heart so you can come home.’"

Unfortunately, 10 months later, Rekisha was again hospitalized and fighting for her life after her body rejected the donor heart. After undergoing an emergency procedure, receiving multiple treatments and medications, she was released again in November of 2012, and looked like she was on the road to a full recovery … until January 10th of this year, when she died from heart complications after being admitted to the hospital.

Throughout her travails, Rekisha remained an ardent supporter of women’s heart health, serving as a national spokesperson for the Go Red For Women movement. In a guest column she penned last year for the Huffington Post, she wrote: "I am passionate about telling as many women as I can to fight for their health and speak up when something doesn’t feel right. Fight to be heard, fight for a correct diagnosis and fight to beat all odds. I want more women to pay attention to any changes in their health and see as many doctors as necessary to be sure their voice is heard."

In her 35 years, Rekisha touched many women by sharing her story. In the midst of a valiant battle to save her own life, her courageous choice to speak up undoubtedly changed people’s lives.

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Go Red For Women – the cause Rekisha cared for so deeply – I hope you’ll help her legacy live on by spreading the word about heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women. In honor of Rekisha, and all our heroic women who are fighting back, we will keep on raising our voices for a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Join us at

Warm regards,

Kevin D. Harker,

Executive Vice President, Midwest Affiliate

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Welcome to the 2014 Legislative Session!

Creating heart-healthy communities takes more than just changing our own habits – we need to motivate others and speak in one voice.  Stay tuned for updates and calls to action as the 2014 Legislative Session begins and we continue to advocate for issues on the local, state and federal level!

We all know our health is our responsibility. But did you know that your lawmakers can also play a key role in promoting prevention and wellness? Urge your elected officials to support policies that encourage healthier lifestyles and foster physical activity in your community, school and workplace.

Eighty percent of cardiovascular disease doesn’t have to happen. Remind your state and federal representatives that an investment in disease prevention helps Americans get healthy and keeps our economy strong.

Encourage your local and national policymakers to take action on legislation that fights the devastating impact of heart disease and stroke. Together we can achieve the American Heart Association’s 2020 Impact Goal to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent and reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke deaths by 20 percent by 2020.

Calls to Action – Here are a few ways you can make a difference right now!

Research is an investment in our nation’s future. It improves health, spurs innovation and grows our economy. While Congress continues to debate budget cuts, help us protect funding for heart disease and stroke research. Take action at

When ordinary people are given the tools to administer CPR survival rates for sudden cardiac arrest victims can double or even triple. That’s why the American Heart Association is committed to training the next generation of lifesavers. Be CPR Smart and join us in supporting legislation to ensure all students learn this life saving skill before they graduate high school.

When it comes to improving health and reversing the childhood obesity epidemic, the research points clearly to physical activity…kids need to move more! The FIT Kids Act will help them do just that. Urge legislators to co-sponsor the FIT Kids Act now and show their support for regular, quality physical education in schools.

The health impact of a stroke can be shattering, but the financial effect can be even more devastating if you don’t have health insurance. Find out what new protections and coverage options are available for stroke survivors under the Affordable Care Act at

Help Spread the Word! – Post these messages to your Facebook page!

Only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools and 2.1 percent of high schools provide daily physical education. It’s time to address the quality and quantity of PE in our nation's schools. Help us build support for the FIT Kids Act by contacting your Members of Congress today. Exercise your voice here:

It’s troubling to think about the promising heart and stroke advancements that will be put on hold due to federal budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health. "Like" this if you stand with medical researchers in calling on Congress for cures, not cuts!

Bystanders trained in CPR are often critical to a cardiac arrest victim’s survival. CPR training in schools can prepare students to contribute to their communities by saving lives. To learn more, visit



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Share Your Story: Ellen Pieper

Ellen Pieper Iowa

On Jan. 30, 2000, at the age 33, Ellen Pieper suffered a stroke. A day she will never forget as it changed the course of her life’s journey. It was super Bowl Sunday, the fourth day of what Ellen describes as the "worst migraine of her life".

"I had a 16-year history of migraines which meant if this one was the worst, then it was pretty bad," Pieper said. Pieper, a mother of two boys, then ages 4 and 1, had trudged through her weekend running errands, going to a movie, even stopping to give the kids some play time at Valley West Mall.

It wasn't until Sunday night when she sat down to watch the Super Bowl with her (then) husband, that things started to go horribly wrong. At one point, knowing that her migraines made her physically ill, he helped Ellen to the bathroom. A short time later, he found her on the floor, unable to move.

"He tells me that I opened my eyes and said, 'Call the paramedics,' and that's the last thing I said for three days," she said. Pieper, then just 33, had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage or, as it's more commonly known, a massive stroke. Seventy-eight days at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, four surgeries (three on her brain and one on her arm) and countless therapy sessions later, Pieper moved to a local rehabilitation center where she spent the better part of two months relearning everything she might need to know just to function.

Today, 14 years after that fateful day, Pieper says she's still not back to "normal." "If I ever get there I will let you know," joked Pieper. "Anyone who has a stroke has to develop a new definition of normal. Your life will never be the same because brain cells are never replaced.

Pieper's life may never be normal but with all she's done in 14 years, it certainly is extraordinary. Pieper, now a stay-at-home mom to two teenage boys, volunteers her time with the American Heart Association speaking to church groups, businesses, schools and any other organization interested in hearing her story of recovery and life after a stroke. She also advocates for heart healthy legislation through the "You’re the Cure" network community.

Alexson Calahan, director of communications with the American Heart Association, said people love Pieper's approach to discussing such a serious topic. "It's amazing how she's able to put so much humor into her story," she said. "She's had a serious stroke, lived with some intense physical limitations, and has numerous cognitive challenges yet she talks about it in a thoughtful and humorous way. She’s ok with it, she's accepted it, and embraced it. We're lucky to have her on our team."

On May 30, 2006, after being diagnosed with depression, a common occurrence with many stroke survivors, she decided to write a book. And she did. In 2009, under the pseudonym E.E. Laine, Pieper released her first book, Praise God for Tattered Dreams. It's about the spiritual journey she's taken since that fateful day in 2000 when her world turned upside down. She's also working on a second book she hopes to have completed by the end of the year.

"I think I'm in a very good place right now," Pieper said. "The best thing any person can have is peace and the perspective to acknowledge they aren’t in control. If you know where you're going, after you die, then you're good. "

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You're Invited! - 2014 Breakfast at the Iowa State Capitol

The 2014 Legislative Session is right around the corner so we wanted to make sure that you get the upcoming "Iowa You're the Cure Breakfast at the Capitol" on your calendar - RSVP now using this link!*

*Don't forget to log-in or sign up for the You're the Cure Community

Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Stop by anytime between
7:30am — 9:30am 


Iowa State Capitol
9th & Grand, Des Moines

Use this casual and free "stop-n-go" heart healthy breakfast opportunity to introduce yourself to your lawmakers and get familiar
with our latest efforts under the dome. 
Kids welcome! 

It's the perfect time to let lawmakers know what's on your mind as they go to work for YOU during the 2014 Legislative Session. 

Plan on stopping by? Don't forget to RSVP today - We'd love to see you there!

Christy Dreiling
Regional Grassroots Advocacy Director

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