American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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My Story

My name is Ryley Williams.  I am a high school student and stroke survivor.  This is my story. 

On July 8, 2013 my life was forever changed when I collapsed during warm up exercises at sophomore football practice. I was rushed to the ER, and they quickly told my parents that I needed a higher level of care, so I was taken in a helicopter to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, AR. In less than 4 hours of being admitted my parents were told that I had suffered multiple strokes in the left side of my brain. I could not speak or move the right side of my body. But they still did not know what caused the strokes. I was 15 years old, and in the best shape of my life, how could this happen to me?! 

Less than 48 hours later I was taken into emergency surgery to remove a portion of my skull to relieve the terrible swelling from the strokes. I am told, this saved my life. Immediately following the crainectomy, a transesophageal echocardiogram was performed and it was then that the vegetation like strands that had built up from an unknown (and never identified) bacterial infection was found, and I was officially diagnosed with negative culture endocarditis.

I was immediately started on several different strong antibiotics to fight the infection, so the next 6 weeks I had to carry around an IV for these medications.  I am told that I completely broke all expectations and predictions from the stroke damage and was moved out of PICU directly into the rehabilitation unit at Arkansas Children's Hospital. 

I was still getting my food thru a feeding tube in my nose, and couldn’t sit up or move on my own. There was speculation that I might only get part of my right side working again. 

But gradually and in leaps, I started fighting to get my life back, beginning with talking, swallowing, moving my arm and leg, and eventually sitting up and standing. After almost 3 weeks in rehab, I took my first steps with the help of a walking machine, and several physical therapists. The next move was a transfer to a residential rehabilitation hospital closer to home, and I immediately started physical, occupational and speech therapy on a daily routine. After another 3 weeks, I was able to come home.

Altogether the total amount of time spent in the hospitals was 7.5 weeks. It was during this time that my neurosurgeon broke it to me that I would never play football again, or any other contact sport, this was devastating to me. In November of 2013, I went back to ACH for my final surgery that replaced the missing piece of skull with a prosthetic piece.

Once again I fought against the odds, and went home after only 2 days, and never lost any of my progress. In January, I went back to school with a shortened schedule, and daily PT/OT/Speech therapies, as well as trying out my new role as a student athletic trainer.

It has been a year since my stroke, and it’s been a very tough journey, not just physically, but mentally hard to accept my new limitations and lifestyle. I want to tell other stroke survivors to not give up, even a tiny progress is progress, and it’s further than you were a week ago.

A lot of people think I have it easy, but it’s really hard to see all my friends moving on in their lives, and I am just fighting to run again, or ride a bike, or play video games. It will all happen again…..just not as quickly as I wish, and that is okay. I have also had my 16th birthday since the strokes, but I will not be able to drive for another year or so, because I have had seizures that are “normal”, but should be controlled by medications I take daily. No matter what, I am alive and I am thankful that I am still on the earth to help others that have been through what I have been through.

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Ruthie Ewers: Smoke-Free Champion

When the City of Harlingen passed a strong smoke-free ordinance, it was like a dream come true for Texas volunteer Ruthie Ewers.  Ruthie has been the driving force behind the Harlingen smoke-free initiative that started more than 8 years ago.

Passionate about improving her community and the lives of its residents, she has been determined to protect Harlingen employees from secondhand smoke exposure since 2005.

A past president of the Cameron-Willacy County American Heart Association, Ruthie co-chaired the 2005 Smoke-Free Harlingen coalition. The coalition succeeded in expanding the Harlingen smoke-free ordinance to include most worksites, including restaurants. In February of 2014, Ruthie made it her mission to “finish the job” and ensure that ALL worksites in Harlingen would be smoke-free.

Three months later, the City passed a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance that covers all worksites, including restaurants, bars, private clubs, and gaming facilities. This public health win is due, in large part, to Ruthie’s grassroots efforts to educate and inform the mayor and city commissioners about the ordinance and to include all stakeholders in the process.

Ruthie has a reputation for rolling up her sleeves and getting the job done in her community. It’s not surprising to see a “Don’t Mess with Ruthie” bumper sticker every now and then when driving through town, and residents are lucky to have her on their side.

Harlingen residents and employees can now breathe easier thanks to Ruthie and all You’re the Cure advocates who stood up for the right to breathe smoke-free air.

Ruthie will continue working with the American Heart Association as a member of the Texas Smoke-free Leadership Council.

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Oklahoma Releases 2014 State of the State Health Report

The 2014 State of the State’s Health Report is an in-depth look at the health status of resident in Oklahoma based off various health measures.

Two critical measures of the health of Oklahoma – infant mortality and smoking rates – have shown signs of decrease, as a result, of the state’s investment in evidence-based practices and approaches implemented by community coalitions and statewide organizations. Enactment of required Pulse Oximetry screenings is an example of such a practice that is already saving lives in Oklahoma

The state ranks 44th in overall health status of its residents compared to other states in the nation. Oklahoma still has a high prevalence of death due to heart disease and stroke. Oklahoma has the third highest rate of death due to heart disease and fourth highest rate of death due to stroke in the nation.  Causes are attributed to unhealthy lifestyles and behaviors such as low physical activity and lack of fruit and vegetable consumption, along with a high prevalence of smoking and obesity.

For more information, please visit the Oklahoma Health Department’s website:

How would you recommend Oklahoma reverse these numbers?

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Governor Mary Fallin holds Ceremonial Bill Signing for CPR in Schools Bill

On June 11th, Governor Mary Fallin held a ceremonial bill signing of House Bill 1378 by Representative Emily Virgin and Senator John Sparks. Ceremonial bill signings serve as an opportunity to culminate the successes of a multi-year advocacy campaign.

A driving factor throughout this campaign was survivor stories. AHA volunteer Amy Steelman shared her story early on at an interim study of how learning CPR as a high school student saved her daughter Hannah’s life when Hannah drowned at a family barbeque.  In addition, Founders of the Chase Morris Foundation, Michael Morris and Kristi Brooks, attended the ceremony.

Chase Morris lost his life due to an undetected heart defect. His father Michael started the Chase Morris Foundation to provide scholarships promote awareness and early detection of heart defects among young students and athletes.  The Chase Morris Foundation was a great partner throughout the legislative campaign by engaging in various grassroots advocacy tactics such as writing letters of support and promoting You’re the Cure calls to action.

After the ceremonial signing, Representative Emily Virgin and Senator John Sparks were presented with Heart of Honor awards for their support of the American Heart Association and recognized all of the staff and volunteers for their involvement in the campaign.

Attendees of the CPR in School bill signing included grassroots volunteers, Mrs. Oklahoma International, Citizen CPR, Oklahoma Chapter of the American College of Physicians, Oklahoma City Sweethearts, Oklahoma City Circle of Red, and AHA staff from the Oklahoma City and Tulsa offices.

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Oklahoma City Council and Mayor Proclaim Stroke Month

On Tuesday, May 27th, Oklahoma City Mayor, Mick Cornett, presented a proclamation from the City of Oklahoma City recognizing May as “American Stroke Month.” Prior to the presentation of the proclamation, stroke survivors and AHA staff briefly met with Mayor Cornett to take a group photo and discuss the importance of recognizing Stroke Month.

After Mayor Cornett had presented the proclamation, each stroke survivor introduced themselves and shared their story as a stroke survivor. Survivor A. Jaye Johnson even announced that the previous Saturday marked the one year anniversary since his stroke, and that since then he has lost over 100 pounds!

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Arkansas Advocate Stars in PSA for CPR in Schools

Arkansas volunteer and Miss Teen International, Haley Pontius, is on a mission to educate more people – especially her peers – about how CPR can save a life.  That is why she supports CPR in Schools legislation and recently starred in a Public Service Announcement. 

You can view the PSA video by clicking here.

In addition to her CPR advocacy Haley has volunteered for the American Heart Association since 2007 in a number of roles.  Haley was a summer intern at the Central Arkansas office in 2012 and has volunteered at several events, like the Heart Ball and Go Red For Women Luncheon.

Thanks to advocates like Haley 1 million students across the nation each school year will be trained in CPR, including students in states like Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas where advocates helped to pass CPR in Schools initiatives. 


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Oklahoma CPR Legislation results in Million Student Milestone

The American Heart Association has reached a major milestone in the campaign to train a generation of lifesavers. As a result of legislation in 16 states, most recently Oklahoma, requiring students to receive basic instruction in CPR prior to graduation, over one million students will be trained on an annual basis. 

Just two weeks prior, Governor Mary Fallin signed House Bill 1378 by Rep. Emily Virgin and Sen. John Sparks.  This momentous occasion was extra special as the Governor attended the Oklahoma City Go Red for Women Luncheon that very same day.

Upon her arrival, the chair of the event as well as AHA staff and volunteers thanked the Governor for her signature on this important legislation.  This achievement would not have been possible without the support of both the OKC and Tulsa offices, board members, volunteers, SWA Advocacy and grassroots staff, and NATC team.

Help us thank Governor Fallin, Representative Virgin and Senator Sparks by taking action now.

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Final Push for CPR in Schools Campaign in Oklahoma

As the legislative session begins to near its end, Oklahoma advocates continue to advocate for House Bill 1378 by Rep. Emily Virgin and Senator John Sparks.  Over the past month, hundreds of petitions were signed at the Tulsa and Oklahoma City Heart Walks.

Organizations such as the Chase Morris Foundation and Oklahoma Chapter of the American College of Cardiology recently endorsed the CPR in School bill and helped spread the word about why teaching students the lifesaving skill of CPR is so important.

Youth Advocate, Grace G. helped deliver many petitions to various Senators and their staff days prior to the vote on the CPR in Schools. This effort coupled with multiple emails to Senators helped to ensure passage of House Bill 1378, 33-8. The bill has returned to the House of Representatives, where the bill awaits final acceptance of Senate amendments before heading to the desk of Governor Mary Fallin for final approval.

Help us ensure that students receive in the lifesaving skill of CPR by visiting the action center and taking action!

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Sherri Stewart, Mrs. Oklahoma International

Sherri Stewart serves as the 2014 Mrs. Oklahoma International. Her passion for advocating for heart health issues began when her father suffered from a stroke and continued when her husband was diagnosed with congenital heart failure. Sherri has created a platform to educate the community on how to improve the heart health of Oklahomans.

Sherri has participated in advocacy events such as Go Red Day at the Capitol and signature AHA events like the Heart Ball, Heart Walk, and Go Red for Women luncheon. Recently, Sherri worked with youth advocate, Shanay to educate attendees on the CPR in Schools bill and collect petitions in support of the bill.  The Oklahoma Advocacy team is very grateful to work with such a dynamic volunteer!

Check out her blog and learn about why she advocates for heart health:

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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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