American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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Be the Cure, Join Today!

  • Learn about heart-health issues
  • Meet other likeminded advocates
  • Take action and be heard
Susan Kosman, Board Chair of CT Board Directors

Volunteerism provides me with a deeper connection to my community. The American Heart Association holds a special connection for me. My father died at home of a heart attack at the age of 47. I was 14. While this influenced many areas of my life, it most certainly affected my choice of profession. My first role out of nursing school was on a pediatric unit which provided cardiac care.  The AHA has promoted many advances in cardiac care that have delivered real and significant positive impacts to many families.

I have had the pleasure of being involved on a national level with The AHA Teaching Garden program. This program partners sponsors with schools to create gardens and provide curriculum on healthy eating for both students and their families. The opportunity to build the garden, plant and harvest with the students have been some of the most rewarding activities I have ever been involved in. To see children truly excited about fruits and vegetables is amazing!

I have been on the board of the Connecticut chapter for a few years and have taken on the role of chair this year. A benefit of volunteering is the opportunity to collaborate with the accomplished and talented members of the CT AHA Board and the staff of AHA. I  am excited to advance the great work already underway including increasing the number of Connecticut towns that are designated Heart Safe and continuing to educate on the benefits of CPR in schools and workplaces.  

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Medical Students Turned Advocates

Peter Evans, Christina Cahill and Lana Khuong know there is more than one way to save a life. They’ve organized CPR trainings, worked on tobacco cessation counseling protocols, coordinated cardiovascular research and fundraisers, and helped create healthy living lessons for adolescents.

They’re studying to become physicians at the University of Vermont’s Medical School, but they know that passing policy can also save lives. Lana said she was eager to become a part of a movement in which the government and civilians join to promote the well-being for all. So, all three have joined the American Heart Association’s Advocacy Committee.  

And we’re glad they did. Just recently, they talked about the dangers of sugary drinks and urged volunteers at the Vermont Heart Walk to sign petitions to Vermont legislators to pass legislation improving the availability and pricing of healthy food. They had a great time doing it and are eager to help us spread the word. Go team advocacy!

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Survivor Story: Michelle Meier

Michelle Meier knew she needed to make some changes.  She had battled obesity for several years, which led to other medical issues and depression.  She took medication to control high blood pressure and had to use an inhaler.  Michelle was in her late 20’s and recognized she was headed along a dangerous pathway. 

Michelle made the decision to change her life.  Together with her physician, they made the decision to try gastic bypass.  Michelle had done her research and knew that the only way this procedure would work is if she also made a commitment to permanently changing her lifestyle habits.  She learned that exercise and diet were important components to long term weight management success.

Before she could have the surgery, her doctor told her she needed to lose 10 pounds. Michelle cut greasy, processed foods and soda pop from her diet and she started exercising. It took 4 weeks, but she lost the 10 pounds.  She already noticed a difference in how she felt – both physical and mentally.  Michelle was ready to start her new journey in life. 

Her surgery was successful and Michelle knew it was now up to her to meet her goal.  She worked closely with her physician and kept her routine checkups.  Every month she lost weight; she was eating right and exercising.  Michelle’s life changed in other ways throughout this journey, but she was determined to meet her weight loss goal in spite of these challenges. 

One year post-surgery, Michelle met her goal.  She went from 300 pounds to a healthy and trim 150 pounds – and was no longer taking medications for high blood pressure. 

Four years later, Michelle has maintained her weight at 135 pounds and continues to not need medication for high blood pressure. 

Michelle shares her inspiring story to encourage others to be bold and make changes in your life.  The key to her success was motivation, inspiration, and support. 

“It will be hard work and it will not be a fast fix.  Keep working on it and you can accomplish anything,” said Michelle.

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Gracie Soultanian, Massachusetts

After hearing Michael Ellsessar’s story, a 16-year-old who died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2010 after getting hit in the chest during a football game, Gracie Soultanian, then 12 now 13, decided she needed to do something. There are no warning signs for sudden cardiac arrest, allowing any athlete to be at risk. Gracie felt that it was important to raise awareness about sudden cardiac arrest and funds to help schools and athletic fields to have AEDs and for coaches and students to know CPR.

Through essay contests, grants and fundraising, Gracie has raised more than $5,000 to purchase AEDs to be placed at playing fields, town beaches and town pools in the Ayer-Shirley area. In fall 2013, Gracie began her Youth Venture project, “Heartstrong”, to help educate her community about sudden cardiac arrest and to promote CPR in schools. She has shared her story at the American Heart Association’s annual Heart on the Hill event, testified in front of the Joint Committee of Public Health in support of AEDs in School and has conducted a CPR training for coaches in her community. She was recently honored as one of our Heart of Gold. The Heart of Gold Award is presented each year to a member or group of members of the Central Massachusetts’ community who have enhanced the quality of life in the region and have played a significant role in advancing the mission of the American Heart Association.

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Deb Koziol, Rhode Island

A heart defect she’d had since birth caused Debra Koziol to go into sudden cardiac arrest.  Her husband’s CPR training—and a lifetime of keeping her heart healthy—saved her.

Debra had spent her life trying to stay healthy. She exercised often and watched her diet.

In her 20s she’d been diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse—a condition causing her heart to occasionally skip a beat. Her doctors said her MVP wasn’t cause for concern.

In August 2006, Debra was on the couch reading a book to her grandson when her husband saw her suddenly tip over. Her eyes were open and fixed, so he immediate called 9-1-1 and began CPR.

The paramedics arrived, put Debra on a machine that provided compressions, and intubated her because she wasn’t breathing on her own.  For more than 30 minutes she didn’t breathe on her own, which put her at risk for brain damage.

Debra, who was 47, had experienced a sudden cardiac arrest. That’s a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating stopping blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. To start her heart beating again, she was shocked six times with an automated external defibrillator on the way to the hospital.

At the hospital, doctors put her into an induced coma to allow her heart to rest; her survival the first night was uncertain.

After three days, Debra began to come out of her coma. It was two weeks before she was strong enough to have open-heart surgery to repair the leaking mitral valve that had strained her heart. Due to complications, it was two months before she could have surgery to implant a cardioverter defibrillator, a device to shock her heart should it ever stop again.

After her recovery, Debra participated in cardiac rehab and learned more about her condition and how to keep her heart healthy.

She’d had always tried to lead a healthy lifestyle, but today she’s more consistent about exercise. She’s made important changes to her diet, too, minimizing saturated fats and carbs.

Today, Debra has no limitations due to her condition, but she’s under the close care of a cardiologist. All four of her heart valves leak, and one section of her heart is slightly enlarged.

Debra’s doctor says that her husband’s quick action and her good health at the time were critical to her survival.

“My doctor told me that I may not have even survived the CPR if my heart hadn’t been as strong as it was,” she said.

Debra is now 54 and a strong advocate for CPR training. She shares her story through the American Heart Association and urges others to get training.

Debra’s condition never produced symptoms before her sudden cardiac arrest. That’s why she emphasizes the importance of keeping your heart healthy: it will be better able to withstand an emergency.

“It could be something other than heart disease, but your heart still has to be strong to withstand whatever you’re fighting,” Debra said. “I tell women, ‘Hopefully you’ll never be the one in the ambulance, but if you are, how strong do you want your heart to be?’”


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Malenda McCalister, Kentucky

Malenda McCalister Kentucky

On September 18th, more than 300 advocates from over 100 organizations gathered on Capitol Hill to rally in support of ongoing funding for medical research, and You're the Cure advocate and heart disease survivor, Malenda McCalister, was excited to be among them.

In October 2008, at just 30-years-old, Malenda's life changed forever as she collapsed on the living room floor after giving birth to her son just 10 days earlier. She was rushed to the hospital cath lab where they  discovered she had suffered from a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). She had a triple bypass and two stents placed, followed by 2 pacemaker/defibrillator surgeries and a lead revision surgery.

Today, Malenda (at right with singer/actress and congenital heart defect survivor, Laura Bell Bundy) is doing well, raising her two children alongside her husband, Jack, and speaking out wherever she can to raise awareness of SCAD and the need to listen to your body when you know something doesn't feel quite right. She was happy to share her story with her lawmakers on Capitol Hill to illustrate the need to adequately fund the type of research that ultimately saved her life.

Thank you Malenda, for taking time away from your family to share your story with lawmakers on Capitol Hill!

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Share your Story: Carl and Clint Cottrell

Carl and Clint Cottrell Terre Haute, IN

Carl was such an energetic burst of life, his final days were so heartbreaking. He still never gave up on life. The list of his heart related issues were within a 10 year period beginning with his massive heart attack…

We as a family are still devasted over his loss. That same year we began walking the Indy Heart-walk. Doing this in his memory, helped us live thru our loss and strengthen our family bond. We knew more research could maybe save more lives. Maybe others would be able to have their dads and grandpas longer. All of our children and grandchildren are involved. Clint, however, took a major part in collecting donations and setting up our family AHA webpage. He is a real go-getter with great enthusiasm and family loyalty.

Just two years after we lost Carl, right before Christmas Eve, Clint suffered a Stroke.  We would never have imagined.  We were in shock as he was life-lined to Indianapolis and we did not know if he would survive.  With great faith, strength and doctors, as we entered the New Year, Clint improved and finally survived his stroke. We were blessed.  I feel that the time we have spent gearing our direction to the AHA Heart-walk, has helped encourage further research and education about heart health.

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Advocate Spotlight: Kristen Waters

I’ve been with the American Heart Association as the Nebraska Communications Director for the past two years, but my time with AHA extends beyond that.

Let me take you back to 2008. I was living in the big city - our nation’s capital – and working for a big time trade association on their advocacy team. I was making good money and living in the heart of a city I loved for its politics, rich history, and culture. It was the end of summer, and the presidential election between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama was as heated as I’ve ever seen. I had just returned from a weekend trip to my favorite little getaway, Gettysburg, PA, when I received a phone call from my parents. They told me that my dear, sweet and only surviving grandparent, “Grams” was diagnosed with heart disease and was in heart failure, but that I “shouldn’t worry” that there was “plenty of time,” and “all sorts of medications” to keep her going. I hung up the phone feeling like I had just been stabbed and all the air from my chest had been sucked out. “Not my Grams,” I thought. She was the one person in my life who believed in me, when maybe my parents wished I was using my head a little more than my heart. She taught me to embrace my free spirit and to explore the vast curiosity I had for life and living.  I knew at that moment that I wanted to move back to Nebraska to spend time with her, to learn more about our family history, and to sit out on her deck to watch the sun set its beautiful colors across the lake as we chat about everything and nothing all at the same time.

I never got to do any of that, though. By the time I made it back to Nebraska, “Grams” fell in her living room floor and was rushed to the hospital, where she suffered 3 heart attacks. She was brought back to life twice with CPR and an AED. The last heart attack took her sweet soul from this earth and without a chance for me to even say goodbye. The ironic thing is, while she was being rushed to the ER, I was casually making the 4-hour drive to her house to spend Thanksgiving with her and my parents, who were already there. My parents never let on that anything was wrong, not until I drove into the driveway that night to find a house without my Grams.

Shortly before her passing, I had started working for a television station as a news producer. Our station proudly sponsored the American Heart Association and many of its fundraising and awareness events. In 2009, I started attending the Go Red For Women Expo, making a donation each time in honor of my grandmother. Soon, I was attending the Heart Walk’s, too, always walking in memory of my Grams. Then, in 2012 I had the chance to work for the American Heart Association as the Communications Director in Nebraska. I could not think of a better way to honor and remember the woman who I had such a special bond with, a woman I loved with my entire heart.  When I look at where my life is now, I know she would be so proud of me; though, she’d probably be mad that I never left Nebraska again, but proud nonetheless. I even named my adopted shelter Puggle, Ms. Charlie Rose, in part, after her.

My grandma may have been old, but she still had a lot of life left to live. She didn’t have to die the way that she did. And neither do so many others. And that’s why, each and every day, I make it my job, literally, to spread awareness in the fight against our No.1 killer, so that others don’t lose their loved ones a day, a month, a year, or a decade too soon. When people ask why I do what I do at the American Heart Association, the answer is simple, Rosemary Jean Waters … my “Grams”…is why.

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Bill Owen is a You're the Cure Advocate Extraordinaire!

Bill became an American Heart Association volunteer when he joined You’re the Cure in September 2013 after signing an online petition asking the city council members and mayor of Irving to pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance. Bill grew up in Irving, graduated from Irving High school (class of ’76), and now lives there with his family, making the smoke-free issue close to his home and heart.

However, Bill’s main motivation for advocating on behalf of the American Heart Association comes from the fact that he “comes from a family that has lost too many members to preventable heart disease.” Bill’s “goal is to help other families avoid that pain through greater awareness!”

In April 2014, Bill  wrote a letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News, urging the city council and mayor of Irving to pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance. His letter exposed the truth about ventilation systems and their inability to remove the toxins from secondhand smoke.

In May 2014, Bill accepted the American Stroke Month proclamation on behalf of the American Heart Association, speaking before the city council and Mayor Van Duyne about using the F.A.S.T acronym to recognize a stroke and the need for quick treatment in the event of a stroke.

He also volunteered at the Taste of Dallas event in July gathering over 30 petition card signatures showing support for the smoke-free effort in Irving and will volunteer for the upcoming Heart Walk in Dallas, again helping gather more petition signatures.

Bill also serves on the AHA’s Smoke-Free Leadership Council, working with Advocacy staff and other AHA volunteer leaders across the state of Texas working towards the passage of a state-wide smoke-free law.

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Cameron Croonquist - Summer Intern Highlight

Cameron Croonquist

Hi everyone my name is Cameron.  I am currently a student studying Public Health Policy and Management at Oregon State University and I’m also wrapping up my advocacy internship with the American Heart Association this summer. For the last three months I’ve been working on our effort to ensure all students learn Hands-Only CPR in school by 2015.  I am extremely passionate about improving the quality and longevity of people’s health here in Oregon, so working with the American Heart Association has been a great fit.

My experience at the American Heart Association has been filled with excitement.  I was fortunate to work with many advocates in various Oregon communities who support our effort to educate more people in Hands-Only CPR as well as state legislators throughout the state.  I really enjoyed hearing about the successes regarding CPR education and listening to heartwarming stories where lives were saved.  Improving the health of our communities is a priority of mine, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that the Heart Association has provided me with the opportunity to create a safer community for all of us.  I look forward to using the experiences I’ve gained at the American Heart Association to reach my educational goals at Oregon State University.

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