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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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Mark Your Calendar for the EmpowerMEnt Challenge!

We’re gearing up for National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and we want you to be in on all of the action!  Throughout September, we’re encouraging families across the country to take control of their healthy by participating in the EmpowerMEnt Challenge.  Each week, families and kids will pursue a different goal, including eating more fruits and veggies, limiting sugary drinks, reducing sodium intake, and increasing physical activity.  Each goal is fun, simple, won’t break the bank and can be done as a family.  And by the end of the month, families will be a step ahead on the road to a heart-healthy life. 

So mark your calendar for the challenge kick-off on September 1st!  Complimentary templates and activities, broken down into the themed weeks, are now available on  In addition, you're invited to join our EmpowerMEnt Challenge Facebook group, where you can make the commitment to take the challenge and share your progress with others.  

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Share Your Story: Kaala Berry

Kaala Berry Kansas

I am a junior at Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, KS. Since 2011,  I have been actively volunteering in various American Heart Association initiatives such as  health  fairs, “Power To End Stroke” program and advocacy efforts such as Hands Only CPR, Healthy  Nutrition in Schools,  NIH funding campaigns supporting medical research and the Million Hearts initiatives, just to name a few. 

Participating in community service is near and dear to my heart.  I have family members who had been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease in addition to my own experience.  Recently, I have been diagnosed with a non-congenital heart murmur.  It was during a routine sports physical for basketball. I’ve had routine physicals for years, but this was the first one that detected my condition. The doctor recommended immediate follow up with my Primary Care Physician who then referred me to a Pediatric Cardiologist. 

Since then, I have been more in tune with research, funding, diagnosis, treatment and what it really means to sustain a HEALTHY HEART as a YOUTH! ! I am more motivated now than ever before to educate and advocate; not only in my community but around the world.  I strive to be a voice for those who may not recognize or understand the importance of cardiovascular health and wellness.

I am very excited to support the American Heart Association’s advocacy efforts and initiatives.  Through this work, I feel I have been given the opportunity to continue to be a “Voice”. It’s not just about me making a difference in lives; it’s about the many people who are in need of support, education, information and resources.  My advocacy efforts allow me to help educate others on prevention, access and empowerment to live a life with a “Healthy Heart”!  ADVOCACY SPEAKS!

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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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One Million Milestone

Did you hear the big news?  We’ve reached an amazing milestone in our campaign to teach all students to be ‘CPR Smart’!  17 states now require CPR training as a graduation requirement, which adds up to over one million annual graduates who are prepared to save a life.  Congratulations to all of the You’re the Cure advocates and community partners who have spoken-up for training our next generation of life-savers.   

But with every advocacy celebration comes a new call to action.  33 states still need to pass legislation to make CPR a graduation requirement and you can help us get there!  Here are a couple simple things you can do right now to get the word out:

1) Watch Miss Teen International Haley Pontius share how a bad day can be turned into a day to remember when students know CPR.  And don’t forget to share this PSA on social media with the hashtag #CPRinSchools!

(Please visit the site to view this video)

2) Do you live in one of the 33 states that have not made CPR a graduation requirement yet?  Take our Be CPR Smart pledge to show your support and join the movement.  We’ll keep you updated on the progress being made in your state. 



We hope you’ll help keep the momentum going as we support many states working to pass this legislation into 2015.  Several states have already had success in securing funding for CPR training in schools, but now need to push for the legislature to pass the graduation requirement and in Illinois, the Governor recently signed legislation that requires schools to offer CPR & AED training to students. 

Bystander CPR can double or triple survival rates when given right away and with 424,000 people suffering out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) each year, this law is critical to helping save lives.  Thank you for being part of our movement to train the next generation of life-savers!

PS- Inspired to be CPR smart too?  Take 60 seconds to learn how to save a life with Hands-Only CPR.

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Share Your Story: Jene Hong

Jene Hong Kansas

Throughout the course of my life I have had two strong yet contradictory thoughts.  One, our bodies are truly amazing and only a divine being could create something so flawlessly.  Secondly, my family would be healthy until we get “old”.  My parents had made many unhealthy choices regarding smoking, diet and lack of exercise.  I could understand that they might have health issues, but never imagined my children, husband and myself being affected by heart disease. After all, we are young, living an active lifestyle, eating right, and avoiding fast food. So I could easily understand my parents having several heart issues including peripheral artery disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a heart attack.  Unfortunately I was wrong about the younger generations.   

When my son was born I remembered thinking how different his color was compared to his older sisters.  Initially, I thought he may just have fairer skin or maybe I just forgot what a newborn looked like.   After a night in the nursery, I was told that Tyler had a congenital heart defect, Tricuspid Valve Regurgitation Secondary to Epstein’s Anomaly.  He was indeed a different color…..bluish due to lower oxygen.   As any new Mom I was scared to pieces by this and afraid my little boy would die.  Six months before, a good friend of mine lost a baby girl to a CHD.  I remember not going to sleep unless he was sleeping on my shoulder or in my arms so that I would be able to feel if he stopped breathing.  There were many doctors’ appointments; I quit working full time to stay home with him as he had a compromised immune system that didn’t allow him to attend day care.  My son was not growing and gaining weight as he should.  He needed to gain weight before the doctors could perform surgery to correct his defect.  This was a condition that he could not simply outgrow.  I learned infant massage, we had a prayer group for him, anointing of the sick and at 10 months old, my dream came true.  I remember signing in at the cardiology visit and the nurses kept saying, “This isn’t a cardiology baby, he is too chubby and pink!”  After two rounds of tests, the doctor came in and said his heart is completely normal.  They showed me the study results and said we can’t explain it but his heart is completely normal.  My response, while crying, was “miracles happen every day, we just don’t give the Big Guy enough credit”. 

While this was an unbelievable outcome for my son, this was not the end of cardiac issues with our family. Shortly after Tyler’s miracle my life turned to the path of a single mom.  Several years later, I met my current husband.  Ironically, his daughter, who was a year younger than my son, also had heart issues. Her heart defect was not caught in the hospital but a few days or weeks later by her mother.  Her mom felt something was wrong as she was not eating well.  Her mom was a true advocate for her wellbeing! It turned out that she had such a large hole in her heart that upon listening to the heart no unusual sounds were detected.  She has had two open heart surgeries since then and is now only a teenager.  Unfortunately she will likely require additional surgeries throughout her life. After her 2nd open heart surgery, I was simply amazed how fast she bounced back from such a major surgery.  She was jumping down the hall like a bunny rabbit from her ICU room to her new room.   I had two thoughts about our common bond with heart disease. First, how odd that we had this connection-how common are congenital heart defects (CHD) and how often do CHD go without notice.  What could be done to make sure babies are screened for these defects before being sent home?  These two young children clearly illustrated the youngest members of our world CAN be effected by heart disease.

Unfortunately, this would not be the end of our immediate, young family’s experience with cardiac issues.  Within a few years of my husband and me dating, he had a cardiac incident.  I received a call on his phone from a man asking about his family history of heart disease.  I told him about his brother that died in his mid 30’s of a heart attack and his father had both a heart attack and a stroke.  I was told I should make my way quickly to the ER as he maybe having a heart attack.   On my way to the hospital I kept thinking, how could a 37 year old, former athlete, who still exercises regularly, be having a heart attack?  Once arriving at the hospital, I was thankful to be informed he was NOT having a heart attack, yet for unknown reasons, he had an experience where his heart rate was out of control; at one point over 200 beats per minute while at rest.  Typically his heart rate is 70 or below while at rest.  To bring his racing heart rate under control, he was shocked twice by the paramedics, while conscious, before being taken to the hospital.  We are thankful that no further treatment was needed and there have been no recurrences of this event.  It was a one-time event that has required no ongoing intervention.  

And our family story continues only this time, it was my turn.  I have had severe asthma and allergies since birth requiring many daily medications.  At the age of 32, medicines had improved to the point that I was finally able to exercise outdoors, doing almost anything I desired.  At that point I became an endurance athlete competing in over 100 triathlons, 14 Ironman and 7 World Championships.  At 48, things started to change, my breathing became difficult.   My asthma doctor recommended that I be re-evaluated at the Mayo Clinic. While there, the doctors performed a cardiology workup and found I had cardiomyopathy with reduced ejection fraction and enlargement of the heart muscle all on the left side of my heart.  They thought it might have been caused by a virus or infection.  My doctors encouraged me to continue living an active lifestyle but decrease the intensity of my activity which would allow my heart rate to stay in a specific range.  This would help to prevent any additional cardiac events.  With this in mind, I am working with my cardiologist to get back to “participating in” rather than “racing” races.  I hope to return to the ranks of active, yet slower, triathlete this year.  Of course there has to be a moral to every story, the moral of this one?  Be your own best advocate for you and your child’s health.  DO pay attention to your heart, even if you think you have no risk factors, as heart disease can affect anyone of any age. 

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Share Your Story: Paul Ansaldo

Paul Ansaldo Kansas

I was 29 years old when I had my stroke, which changed my life forever. As I look back, my life has been altered, not for the better or worse, it just became different. I now face a few more challenges in my day to day living and at 53 years young, I’m writing my stroke story for the first time.

I will always remember October 6, 1990 not only as a beautiful sunny day in Ocala, Florida but also the date of my event. I have no idea why the medical profession refers to it as an event but they do. I woke up feeling fine with plans to go to the Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers football game in Gainesville, Florida. Go Gators! My only concern that morning was can the Gators beat the Tigers? I showed no symptoms or warning signs of what was to come. I was able to drive to the game, felt fine, no headache, and my speech was intact.

During the second quarter of the football game, it all changed. Suddenly, I was having difficulty reading and seeing the numbers on the back of the players’ jersey. I was starting to feel a bit dizzy so I went to the restroom to splash cold water on my face. It was on the way back to my seat that I quickly became disoriented. I was stumbling, walking into people and doing my best to try to stay upright. As soon as I made it back to my seat, I fell forward on the person in front of me and passed out. I was in and out of consciousness. Within minutes, stadium security called for medical assistance. The paramedics were able to give a preliminary diagnosis of stroke as my face was distorted, and speech was slurred.

I was informed a few days later that I had a left Middle Carotid Artery (MCA) dissection, cutting off blood flow to my brain which ultimately resulted in a massive stroke. My Initial deficits were: total paralysis on the right side of my body, global asphasia: unable to produce recognizable words, and had little to no understanding of the spoken language. The doctors were concerned that I would never walk, talk or have a rational thought again. They did not paint a positive future for me as I could not do basic commands, did not recognize my family and had no idea of my situation.

Within ten days, I regained feeling on my right side, my paralysis almost completely went away and I started to walk. I was then released from the hospital. In reality, this is a relatively short amount of time given my situation. I did not have to have surgery. The majority of my paralysis went away and I started to walk. A true blessing that is unexplainable even 23 years later. My communication skills took the longest to regain, especially the task of putting together a sentence with somewhat clear pronunciation. It’s been years later and it is still my speech that prevents me from achieving full recovery.

A few months into my recovery, I was having somewhat clear thoughts and I knew that time was not my friend. When my stroke occurred, my daughter was five and my son was just three years old. It is from them I got my inspiration to work hard every day to gain back the abilities I had lost.

The fact that I am a stroke survivor is something that I chose not to share with others. Once people would find out, their expectations of me were lowered along with their confidence in my abilities; some would even question my intellect. So for a long time, I chose to keep my experience to myself. I would only confide in those I’m close to. Now, after 23 years of living with and working through the outcome of my stroke, my philosophy has changed. I want to share my story in hopes that it will help others. I no longer want to stay quiet. I feel I have gained the insight and wisdom that allows me to help other courageous stroke survivors.


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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: Sophia Foster

Sophia Foster Kansas

Cassandra is thankful for a simple screening test for newborns, not yet required in Kansas, as it saved her baby’s life.  That screening, called a pulse oximetry test, found the oxygen level in her first child, Sophia, to be dangerously low. It was the first step to discovering that Sophia had numerous critical heart defects that would put her in surgery.

20 weeks into Cassandras pregnancy, her daughter was identified as having heart issues.  After several tests, nobody could give them a clear answer.  Once Sophia was born, she was given a pulse oximetry test which identified her oxygen saturation level at 70%.  They quickly followed up with a heart echocardiogram test and found she was suffering from several critical heart defects.

If they did not perform a pulse ox test on Sophia, she could have died.  The pulse ox test assists in identifying CHDs that can easily be missed as some of them may not show up until days or weeks later when surgery is less effective and the damage may be irreparable.
In October of 2013, Sophia had surgery to repair her heart.  She is 13 months old now and healthy.  Cassandra wants to see to it that every newborn in Kansas gets the same test Sophia received.  She continues to assist and support the work the American Heart Association is doing in their fight to get every newborn screened.


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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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