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Getting My First Stents

Part II of a Special Guest Series by Steve Irigoyen, a You’re the Cure Advocate who’s an 9-time heart attack survivor and 2-time stroke survivor

After the paramedics arrived and found me on the garage floor, they asked me “on a scale of 1-10 what’s your pain level?” and I replied “10+”!  With a 1-2-3 I was loaded on a gurney and hoisted into the ambulance by strong Paramedics and EMTs.  I’d never been in an ambulance before, and it was a rush.  I could feel us speeding along, and quick hands attached EKG leads on my chest.  They gave me three nitros, which didn’t work at all, and then gave me morphine, which barely seemed to dull the pain. Sirens were blaring and lights were flashing.  I winced, realizing that things were actually be pretty bad. 

Once I arrived at the hospital, I was quickly unloaded in the emergency room and seen immediately for treatment.  Cardiologists discovered two main arteries were blocked – one at 98%, and the other at 95%.  My Mom and Dad arrived, and I felt myself slipping away and could barely speak. “Mom, Dad, I’m so sorry but I’ve gotta go.  But don’t worry I’ll be by your side every day.”

They were sobbing, and my Mom pleaded, “No! No Steve we need you to stay with us!”

Consciousness started to drift away and I closed my eyes.  My parents watched my lips turn blue and thought I was dead.  A Cardiologist zipped in and explained, “We’re taking him in for an angioplasty. Don’t worry – he still has a chance! Hold tight!” and wheeled me away.

When I regained consciousness, I realized I felt immediately 100% better. What a difference!  I WAS ALIVE!!! Two stents were placed in my arteries, providing access to critical blood flow.  Two days later I was discharged and went to my parent’s house for a little extra care.

Those two stents saved my life.  Since my first heart attack, I discovered that the American Heart Association has funded lifesaving research – including important developments in stents – that saved me.  Years ago, I wouldn’t have had a chance at survival, and would have made good on my promise to my parents that I’d be by their sides in spirit. Thankfully, I am alive and am grateful to be an advocate for research. 

In addition to the lifesaving research of the American Heart Association – the National Institutes of Health research has provided critical advances in cardiac care.  Sadly, NIH continues to be woefully underfunded.  Heart disease and stroke remain our Nation’s No. 1 and No. 4 killers, respectively, but NIH invests only 4% of its budget on heart research and a mere 1% on stroke research.  Join me to advocate for research – and help improve the future of cardiovascular disease and stroke treatment.  Visit  www.rallyformedicalresearch.org to learn more about our call on Capitol Hill and find out how to be further involved.

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Stephanie Goes to Washington DC

Stephanie L'Archuleta, California

This year I was pleased to join other AHA advocates across the U.S. and rally on the Capitol steps in support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  My trip to Washington DC was amazing! The weather was perfect (in the 70's) and Washington was beautiful. The event was very well organized and impressive. There were hundreds of NIH funding advocates there from a wide variety of organizations. It was such a great honor to go to our Senator's and Congress people's offices, sharing my mom's story.

I visited the offices of Senator Diane Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, Representative Michael Honda, Representative Sam Farr, and Representative Lois Capps. They seemed to enjoy seeing pictures of mom and I loved sharing them. They were all very interested in supporting NIH funding. It is such a privilege to advocate on a federal level. I met so many interesting people who were advocating with me and I learned a lot from them. I met a stroke survivor in her 30's who has her own stroke advocacy website, several research professors from UC Santa Cruz and UCSF, a hospital CEO, and many, many more. As a group, I really think that we impressed on our elected officials the great need we have for medical research funding and its broad impact. Without exception, all of the elected officials (or their representatives) expressed strong support of our cause.

Thank you, AHA for this incredibly amazing opportunity to serve!

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My Journey to DC

Lindsey Lahr, Oregon

Earlier this year I the honor of joining over 225 individuals from 170 groups advocating for medical research. We rallied on the Hill in Washington DC because we all shared the same common goal, to stop the cuts to the National Institute of Health (NIH).

I was honored to work side by side with such amazing survivors who represented a wide array of advocates from pancreatic cancer to heart disease and even mathematicians, each one carrying their own story of how they will be affected by these cuts. I was proud of Oregon’s representatives for not only supporting our cause but for encouraging us to let our voices be heard. To my surprise, they too had personal stories they shared about why they support the NIH and why it’s critical that their funding is restored.

As we met back with our fellow advocates it seemed unanimous that both advocates and representatives were united for the same cause.

I look forward to continuing to support the NIH and fight for a better tomorrow.

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Michael Goes to Washington

On September 18th, I joined survivors and doctors from health organizations across the country to storm Capitol Hill as an advocate for National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. It was a wonderful experience for me personally and while I am on the Board for the American Heart Association in Idaho, I have never had the chance to meet so many survivors from so many different diseases before.  We all had one thing in common: we wouldn’t be here without the NIH.  It was this message that we took to the hill, and I believe it was this message that got through. 

As we all know, the Congressional budget can be a controversial topic. I know our Idaho delegation has been supportive in the past, but with the new realities on the ground, I wasn’t sure.  However, I was pleasantly surprised when all the members said they were in full support of restoring NIH funding.  It is certainly refreshing when all of our elected officials can get behind an issue that is so important to not only Idaho, but the research community as a whole.

It was incredible to meet these fellow survivors and it was also incredible to hear that we have so much support from our Idaho delegation.  I know that my story and the stories from so many Idahoans like mine were extremely influential.  I look forward to continuing to supporting our efforts of a common goal again in the future.

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A Day in the Life – Rally for Medical Research, 2013

Written By Marcy Shugert, California

The Rally for Medical Research met on September 17-18, 2013 to ask Congress to stop the sequestration of National Institutes of Health (NIH); and I was one of the people chosen to go - it was an unforgettable experience! From beginning to end, I was under the feverish rush of the politics of Washington, D.C., and I loved every aspect of it. I am a stroke survivor, and have been involved with many aspects of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA). I am very grateful to be an advocate, and that the AHA/ASA gave me the opportunity to meet my Representatives and Senators. It was, without a doubt, a chance of a lifetime.

The reason that we met on the Hill to help stop the sequestration of the NIH, and to add our personal story as to why the decision affects us. My reasons were two-fold; when I was having my stroke, I didn't know that people my age, at 33 could have the symptoms I was experiencing; had I known, I would have called the paramedics and would have gotten treatment much sooner. Secondly, if I had known about tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator, then I would have asked for it in the hospital. tPA is a clot-busting drug that has the potential to save many people’s lives who are experiencing a stroke.

Therefore, I am an advocate through the AHA/ASA, and speak whenever I can about how I was healthy, ran, had normal blood pressure and cholesterol, did not have strokes in my family, and ate well. Yet, I was stressed and didn't do a good job of compartmentalizing my time. I then asked the Senators/Representatives to consider the sequestration to end because, as the AHA/ASA believes, we need more research on stroke.  The young researchers we have invested NIH dollars into thus far will either leave the profession, or go overseas where they have more funding if NIH is not supported.

I met with staff from Senator Boxer, Senator Feinstein, Representative Issa, and Representative Calvert’s offices.  I also had the chance to meet my Representative, Scott Peters in person.  The meetings were 30-45 minutes long, and every person listened to what I had to say.

Overall, it was an excellent experience just being in the heart (pun intended of course) of our capital and speaking to the Members of Congress about making decisions for our future! Thank you AHA/ASA for making it possible for me to speak and be a part of our nation’s government for one day – I am inspired to do even more now that I have got a voice – both literally and figuratively. Here’s to more advocacy to everyone, in small and big places alike!

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Share Your Story: Ginny Ekins

Ginny Ekins, Washington

On September 18th survivors and doctors from organizations across the country stormed the Hill for NIH. While I have taken part in You’re the Cure Lobby Day with the American Heart Association in the past, I have never had the chance to meet so many survivors from so many different diseases before. But we all had one thing in common: we wouldn't be here without the NIH. It was this message that we took to the Hill, and I believe it was this message that got through. 

As we all know the climate on the Hill is rather tense right now when it comes to the budget. Because of this I really wasn't sure what kind of response we would get when asking them to restore the funding to the NIH. However, not a single representative, that I met with at least, opposed this ask. In fact, 3 out of the 4 said they had already set up discussions with researchers and penned letters to their fellow representatives to ask that they too support this ask. 

It was incredible to meet these fellow survivors, and it was also incredible to hear that we have the support of so many representatives. The most important thing that one of them told me, is that the stories they hear, from people like us, is what motivates them to fight to keep the funding for NIH.

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