American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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Trick or Treat?

Candy Corn, Gummy Bears, Peanut Butter Cups, Swedish Fish, Candy Bar, Bubblegum and Cotton Candy… These may sound like treats the neighborhood kids are hoping to pick up when they go trick-or-treating later this month, but they’re actually the tricks used by companies to hook our kids on nicotine. These are flavors of e-cigarette liquid available for purchase today.

With alluring flavors like those and a dramatic increase in youth exposure to e-cigarette advertising, the rising popularity of e-cigarettes among youth shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, it raises concerns. Strong regulations are needed to keep these tobacco products out of the hands of children. We’ve asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and we’re still waiting for them to act.

Meanwhile, CDC launched this week their #20Million Memorial. 20 million people have died from smoking-related illnesses since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health. Has smoking affected you and your family? Check out this moving online memorial, then share your story or honor loved ones lost too soon with the hashtag #20Million.  

AHA staff and volunteers across the country are preparing to fight the tobacco epidemic in upcoming state legislative sessions. They’ll ask for state funding for tobacco prevention programs and for increased tobacco taxes, a proven deterrent for youth smoking.

This Halloween, don’t let our kids continue to get tricked by the tobacco companies. Help end the tobacco epidemic for good. To amplify our message with lawmakers, ask friends and family members to join us, then watch your inbox for opportunities to act!  

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Share Your Story: Scott Sanborn

Scott Sanborn Iowa

As the anchor of a morning TV news show in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Scott Sanborn had to be an early riser. In hopes of getting in some exercise before work, he set the alarm clock even earlier and hopped on his wife’s glider at 1:30 a.m.

Within a few minutes, he felt pain in his chest. It came and went, so he continued working out. This happened three times before he gave up and headed to work. A few minutes before his shift, as Scott was putting on his makeup, a colleague noticed he didn’t look well. Scott admitted he’d felt chest pain that morning. Asked if he wanted to go to the hospital, Scott figured everything traced to having gotten up early and being stressed.

His 2-hour program went fine. The pain, however, resumed as soon as he went off the air. So Scott went outside for a smoke. "When I tell this story, I feel like an idiot," Scott said. "People sometimes can’t believe how stupid I was."

For about five years, Scott’s body had been trying to tell him something was wrong. A longtime smoker who regularly fell off the exercise bandwagon and paid little attention to what he ate, Scott rarely saw his doctor. So he didn’t have any idea that he had high cholesterol and prediabetic.

Then 46, his job was stressful, in part because of the hours. Rare was the night he got more than six hours of sleep. There were other signs, too. Whenever he’d play basketball with his kids, or take on rigorous yard work, his chest would tighten. Yet he dismissed it because whenever he’d take a break, the pain would stop. "I was in complete denial," Scott said.

The morning of his ongoing chest pains, Scott pored through medical encyclopedias to determine what may be causing them. He decided it could be a hiatal hernia and figured he’d call a doctor later. A heart attack never crossed his mind. When his wife came home and Scott shared what happened during the day, she urged him to go to the hospital. Again, Scott refused, but agreed to call the doctor the next day.

At 11 p.m., the pain in Scott’s chest was so intense it woke him up. "It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest," he said. "Then, I knew something was drastically wrong." Scott’s wife called 9-1-1 and an ambulance soon arrived to take him to the hospital. A catheritization procedure found an artery 90 percent blocked. Doctors used a balloon procedure to fix the artery and installed a stent, a mesh-like tube, to clear the blockage. "As soon as they opened me up, I felt immediate relief," Scott said.

In the recovery room, doctors gave Scott a binder of information produced by the American Heart Association about what had happened to him. "That’s when I learned that I was in major denial about my lifestyle," he said. He read everything he could, consulted extensively with doctors and made up his mind to make immediate changes.

"I remember my kids coming into the hospital room and I could see the fear in their eyes," Scott said. "I hate to sound melodramatic, but that’s something you never want to experience as a parent and I felt terrible."

Scott stopped smoking and shifted to a low-fat, high fiber diet. He also started exercising, walking at least 30 minutes every day. He eventually lost 50 pounds and got his blood sugar and cholesterol back into healthy ranges. As he learned more about the prevalence of heart disease – it’s the No. 1 killer in America, affecting about 1 in 3 adults – he decided to use his role as a news anchor to help others learn from his mistakes. "I learned that 80 percent of heart disease is preventable," Scott said. "Most people can control their lifestyle and avoid heart disease. I’m a prime example of what can happen if you don’t."

Seven months after his heart attack – November 2002 – Scott spearheaded a five-part series on his experience and a half-hour special on heart disease. The show included a panel of experts taking calls from viewers.The outpouring of support, calls and letters from community members who credited Scott with opening their eyes to their own risks was both humbling and rewarding. "I had one woman call and tell me that while watching the program, her husband realized he had been suffering from angina and they went to the hospital and got a stent," Scott said. He threw his energy into sharing his story in the community, speaking at local events and volunteering for the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk event for about five years before pulling back to a less public role.

Scott’s recovery ended up being more complicated than expected. He was one of a small percentage of stent patients who develop restenosis—a condition in which scar tissue around the stent builds up, creating another blockage. About every three to six months, Scott returned to the catheterization lab for another stent or brachytherapy, which burns away the scar tissue. Nearly three years later, after receiving six stents and two brachytherapy procedures, Scott underwent triple bypass surgery.

Scott’s ordeal was chronicled in a second five-part series that ran in spring 2005. After taking a step back from public advocacy roles for heart health for a few years, Scott has jumped back into a more active role when it comes to raising awareness about heart health, sharing his story in a public service video and emceeing this year’s local Heart Ball.

He credits the AHA for giving him the information that helped save his life, enabling him to enjoy his wife, their six grown children and 15 grandchildren. He also wants to help others better understand the lifesaving changes they too could make. "I’m probably in better shape now, at 58, than I was in my 30s," Scott said.


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Share Your Story: Jenny Mhire

Jenny Mhire Missouri

With a degree from Missouri State in sports medicine, and as the owner of CrossFit Springfield, Jeremy Mhire knew all about performing CPR.  He’d never used those skills, though – not until his wife needed her life to be saved.

It was April 2008, and Jeremy, Jenny and their 8-week-old son Vincent were traveling along Highway 44 in Missouri. They were headed to Jenny’s parents’ house in Joplin to drop off the baby, then the couple were going to visit Lawrence, Kansas.  Jeremy looked into the backseat at Jenny – his high school sweetheart, his “Jenny ShineShine” – and at Vincent. He got the baby to laugh, and snapped a picture.

About a half-hour into the drive, Jenny was asleep when a truck veered into their lane. The commotion it caused woke her up. She then gasped and slumped over, her mouth and eyes open.  “She was lifeless,” Jeremy said.

Jeremy immediately pulled the car to the side of the road and placed Jenny on the ground so could check her pulse and listen for her breathing.  Jenny had no pulse. She wasn’t breathing. And she was starting to turn a bluish color.  Jeremy started doing chest compressions and giving mouth-to-mouth breaths.

“I just focused on the task at hand, blowing in the air, making sure her head was tilted back, that the airway was clear and her tongue wasn’t falling back,” Jeremy said. “When you learn CPR, you go through the motions, but to use it, what that feels like, I just can’t describe it. I’m really thankful I had training. I just started doing those first few cycles of compressions and breaths.”

A highway patrol officer eventually pulled over to help. He carried a defibrillator, a device that uses electric shock to restore the heart’s rhythm. Jenny still wasn’t responding.  An ambulance arrived, emergency medical technicians established a heart rhythm and Jenny was rushed to the hospital.

Several days later, while still in the hospital, Jenny said her heart felt funny.  That’s when her heart stopped again.  “She completely flat-lined,” Jeremy said.

Rushed to surgery, Jenny had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted to help maintain a normal heart rhythm. She also eventually received an explanation. Her problems were caused by a condition known as Long QT syndrome.

Long QT syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that can occur in otherwise healthy people and disrupt normal heart function. The condition occurs more often in women, and can be misdiagnosed or overlooked entirely. Long QT syndrome affects about 1 in 7,000 people in the United States and may have caused between 3,000 and 4,000 sudden cardiac deaths in children and young adults each year. The condition often doesn’t have any symptoms; when it does, among the most common is unexplained fainting, which is caused by not enough blood reaching the brain. Jenny acknowledged that she fainted suddenly a few weeks before collapsing in the car, but had attributed it to postpartum fatigue. Jenny had no known history of heart problems or risks for heart disease.

She now takes beta blocker drugs, and regularly visits her cardiologist. Data from her pacemaker is automatically transmitted to her care team so they can spot any irregular heartbeats. Since the pacemaker was implanted, Jenny has not experienced any problems. Pacemakers typically last about five years, and later this year, Jenny will undergo her first surgery to have her pacemaker replaced.
Jenny’s two children also underwent genetic testing for the Long QT syndrome gene mutation. She and Jeremy were relieved when the results were negative.

Jenny, now 34 and a mother of two, hasn’t been slowed by her condition.  She’s a business manager at a hospital in the Springfield, Missouri, area and has since become a yoga instructor. She is obviously very thankful that her husband knew what to do when the moment of need arose, and has become a vocal advocate for the importance of learning CPR.  “You can save a life just by learning some basic steps,” she said.  Jeremy’s quick thinking and CPR training saved his wife’s life.

“I honestly wouldn’t be here without him,” she said.

“It’s a tool in your toolbox you hope you never have to use,” said Jeremy, also 34. “Heart disease and heart conditions can affect any one at any age. I think that’s easily taken for granted especially among people in their 20s and 30s. But you can be proactive with your life. We’re so humbled by the opportunity to share our experience and hopefully raise awareness.”

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Advocate Spotlight: Quality Physical Education - What is it?

Breon Schroeder Derby Spearfish SD and Chadron NE

Some individuals may remember a time where ‘gym’ class revolved around an unstructured chaos of playing dodge-ball, being picked last for teams, and sitting on the sidelines while the instructor focused on getting his or her athletes prepared for the big game. This ‘roll out the ball’ era is a stigma that continues to plague the field of physical education.

Having progressed well beyond ‘gym’ class, the field, as its name suggests, focuses on education; a continuous process that provides individuals with the knowledge, skills, tools, and resources necessary to enhance their well-being throughout their lifetime. Unlike other content areas, physical education focuses on the development of the whole child by emphasizing the three domains of learning: 1). Cognitive, 2). Affective and, 3). Psychomotor.

Physical education not only provides individuals with the opportunity to engage in physical activity, but it also offers a diverse, standards-based curriculum and a variety of quality assessment practices so that each student can find something they enjoy and will continue to participate in throughout their lifetime. In addition, the physical education environment fosters real-world skills essential to being successful in today’s competitive job market, such as teamwork, cooperation, and responsibility. Physical education also plays a crucial role when it comes to high stakes testing and financial gain for school districts, as several studies have shown a link between physical activity and academic success.   “Exercise improves learning on three levels: first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus” (Ratey, 2008, p.53).  It has been proven that healthier students learn better (CDC, 2014a). Quality physical education can aid in student success by decreasing absenteeism, increasing fitness levels, and enhancing cognitive function.

However, despite the vast advantages physical education provides, including the education on the one thing people use every day, their bodies, it is often the first content area to be let go when school districts are faced with budget cuts.  With over $147 billion dollars spent annually on preventable, obesity-related illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers (CDC, 2014b), educating students on the importance of lifetime physical activity through quality, daily physical education could have a substantial impact on both the health and economic status of our nation. If people are truly concerned about the success and well-being of our students, our future, they will get informed and become an advocate for quality, daily physical education.

Breon Schroeder Derby has a B.S in Physical education with minors in health and coaching from Black Hills State University in Spearfish. She has a M.Ed in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in PE from Chadron State College and is currently working on her dissertation to complete her Doctorate in Health Education from A.T Still University. Breon taught physical and health education at Lead Deadwood High School and for the past two years was an instructor in the HPER department at Chadron State College. She currently serves as instructor of HPER at BHSU.

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Share Your Story: Dezi Hamann

Dezi Hamann Iowa

Dezi exudes strength and joy.  As his mom, and as a heart mom, I owe it to him to do everything I can to help sustain the progress that was made by three pioneers with heart babies.

It was April 21, 2013 that our baby was diagnosed with a CHD and that moment feels like it was a lifetime ago.  Dezi underwent open heart surgery on November 14th, 2013 at 6.5 months old.  Up to that time, my biggest fear was handing him over to the nurse and putting my faith into his heart team and our higher power.  When that moment actually came, it was the most incredible feeling of relief as I could feel the weight lifting off my shoulders.  The surgeon later told me that based on his tests, there was no medical explanation for the fact that his oxygen levels remained at 100%.  I assured him that not all things required a medical explanation.  He also stayed on his little growth curve at the 4th percentile. 

Dezi flew through recovery with flying colors.  He did suffer a few minor complications, but nothing that kept him from being discharged to home in a record 4 days.  It was 6 days after surgery that he did a photo shoot with the American Heart Association.  At 8 days post-op, he met his Heart Heroes, Fred Hoiberg and Billy Fennelly and they did some pictures together and Dezi got an autographed basketball.  I like to think of him as the lucky charm that helped the ISU basketball team do so well this season.

Since then, we've just been working on playing catch-up.  Dezi spent a lot of his first 6.5 months going easy and napping frequently.  It's normal for babies with medical issues to have developmental delays.  I expected them to be physical, but mostly it has been verbal.  He's incredibly mobile and we are just waiting for him to take his first unassisted step at any moment.  He's a wild man that loves to climb on and around anything, and chase our kitten.  He's perfected his "dribble" and can now slam dunk his basketball on his mini hoop set.  And best of all, he loved to laugh.  He isn't very vocal yet, but we're working on it, and I know the day that we miss his quiet will be here before we know it. 

One of the best parts of the last year has been to meet members of our community and share his story.  We had no idea how common CHD's were, or how limited the funding for research and development was.  As little as 50 years ago, these babies were given a death sentence with their diagnosis.  We have learned that Vivien Thomas, Helen Tossig, and Alfred Blalock (a black man with no formal education, a deaf woman, and a white man in the 50's), defied obstacles and started "fixing" these blue babies.  A woman who was raised to never let anything stop her from her life's goal decided that she wanted to do something about this ignored population, and she recruited the help of two men who listened to her pleas.  While I don't have the ability to be a Helen Tossig, I can aspire to be the type of woman she was in being the change that she wanted to see in the world around her. 

Thank you for taking the time to read our story.  Please, feel free to share his picture, share his story.  If you can, join a heart walk, donate some money, help with a fundraiser.  It's the little things that snowball and make great things happen.  Not all heart families are as lucky as we have been.  Our hero was able to be "fixed".  Maybe 50 years from now, all heart babies will have that same opportunity.


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Teaching Gardens = Learning Laboratories for Kids

Studies show that when kids grow their own fruits and vegetables, they’re more likely to eat them. That’s the idea behind the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens.  While 1/3 of American children are classified as overweight or obese, AHA Teaching Gardens is fighting this unhealthy trend by giving children access to healthy fruits and vegetables and instilling a life time appreciation for healthy foods.

Aimed at first through fifth graders, we teach children how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants, harvest produce and ultimately understand the value of good eating habits. Garden-themed lessons teach nutrition, math, science and other subjects all while having fun in the fresh air and working with your hands.

Over 270 gardens are currently in use nationwide reaching and teaching thousands of students, with more gardens being added every day.  You can find an American Heart Association Teaching Garden in your area here or email to find how you can get involved.


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Share Your Story: Jenny Nixon

Jenny Nixon Iowa-RVP Youth Market

"I don’t think I am doing anything amazing, or that there's something special about what I do (as a manager). I just think, No. 1, it's important that your team knows you care for them. And No. 2, that you have fun. Laugh and have a good time. Especially when times are tough. Telling them you believe in them. I’m their cheerleader. I believe they can do it.

I’ve been at the American Heart Association for 12 years, and I’m as motivated now as I’ve ever been. In this job, you have to ask yourself, ‘why am I doing this? Why am I here?’ Something makes you keep trying, and keep asking. Something drives you to go back to that school that has told you no the last 5 years. For me, it’s my sons, Kyler and Treyton, who have both been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a congenital heart condition. I’m here for them.

In addition to passion, you have to have a thick skin. I tell myself all the time, when I have to go to a school who has been telling me no for years, ‘if I don’t go back to there, I am not doing my job.’ Maybe something’s changed that will allow them to participate with us this time. And I’ll tell them that, and they respect that. They understand. They see my passion.

This is my 12th year, and my best yet. I would say, first and foremost, I have a great team. They motivate me. I know the hours they put in, the early mornings, the late nights. They’re out in the field hours before some people are in the office. I’ve been there, done that. They raised $1 million NEW dollars this year because they saw the momentum of their hard work, saw the growth in their territories, and it kept them going. Success breeds success.

Our team rallied around each other.  We started out with a goal of having 100% recruitment. Each person hit that goal in the fall. It was amazing. As they’d hit goal individually, they’d reach out and help their teammates, even making calls for them, to make sure we’d hit our team goal. It wasn’t about themselves as individuals. We were all in this together."

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Share Your Story: Sonja Watson

Sonja Watson Iowa

"Eat all your food, there are hungry children in this world," was a phrase I heard often when I was a child and I still think of it today when I sit down to eat a meal. Of course the food we ate was commonly full of salt and unhealthy fat.

As an African-American woman, I believe we need to educate ourselves on the number one killer in our ethnic group, that being heat disease. I always knew that diabetes and heart disease ran in my family, but it did not sound like a bad thing, never believing that it could happen to me, just something that we had to deal with.

It hit home for me on December 22, 2008, the day I lost my mother. She had so many struggles and complications that she had been facing as a result of four major strokes and diabetes over the course of several years. It began with a lack of education on the causes and risk factors of heart disease and stroke. What you learn is what you have been taught by previous generations. You end up passing on that same knowledge onto your children. This is why I feel it is important to educate ourselves so that we can spread the word to future generations on the importance of taking care of themselves.

I also struggle with my own up and down weight issues but I am grateful that "You’re the Cure" and American Heart Association is here to help people, like myself, develop and maintain a healthy heart.

I often think that if I had only one wish, what would it be? My wish would be to live a heart healthy lifestyle so I may see my children grow up, marry and start their own families raising their own heart healthy children.


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Take Control of Your Health

Did you know high blood pressure has also been called the “silent killer”? That’s because its symptoms are not always obvious, making the need for regular check-ups important.  As we recognize High Blood Pressure Awareness Month, here are the facts:

• High blood pressure (aka: hypertension) is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.

• It’s the leading risk factor of women’s deaths in the U.S., and the second leading risk factor for death for men.

• One-third of American adults have high blood pressure. And 90 percent of American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes.

• More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic black adults have high blood pressure. Not only is high blood pressure more prevalent in blacks than whites, but it also develops earlier in life.
• Despite popular belief, teens, children and even babies can have high blood pressure. As with adults, early diagnosis and treatment can reduce or prevent the harmful consequences of this disease.

Now that you know the facts, what can you do to take control? The answer is a “lifestyle prescription” that can prevent and manage high blood pressure. A healthy lifestyle includes exercise, stress management, and eating a healthy diet, especially by reducing the sodium you eat. To learn more about taking control of you blood pressure, be sure to visit our online toolkit!

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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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