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Rhode Island to Require Pulse Ox Screening for Newborns

Good news for Rhode Island's tiniest hearts!  The RI Department of Health recently finalized a regulation that adds critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) to the mandatory newborn screening panel in the Ocean State.  The new requirement will take effect on July 1, 2015.  Implementation is well underway – all birthing hospitals in RI have adopted pulse oximetry screening for CCHD as the standard of care.   

The Department of Health has been working with Rhode Island’s birthing hospitals over the past two years on this vital initiative.  We greatly appreciate the leadership of the Department and the many physicians, nurses and medical professionals who helped lay a strong foundation for this policy change.  

Special thanks to the many You’re the Cure advocates who supported this campaign – especially our Little Heart Heroes and families from Mended Little Hearts of Rhode Island!

Click the following link to thank Governor Chafee and Department of Health Director Dr. Michael Fine for expediting this important regulation: 

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RI’s Tobacco Settlement Refinance is Now Toxic Debt

Very interesting piece from GOLOCALProv News. ZERO dollars devoted to tobacco cessation & prevention, and now RI faces $2.8 billion in debt on capital appreciation tobacco bonds due in 2052. Tobacco Free RI weighs in on the latest development in this shameful saga…





RI’s Tobacco Settlement Refinance is Now Toxic Debt

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kate Nagle, GoLocal Contributor

Rhode Island's effort to balance the state budget in 2002 and 2007 from tobacco settlement money may be blowing up into toxic debt to the state.

In a report issued by ProPublica -- "How Wall Street Tobacco Deals Left States With Billions in Toxic Debt" -- Rhode Island is now facing $2.8 billion in debt on capital appreciation tobacco bonds due in 2052, a revelation that comes nearly sixteen years following the landmark United States tobacco settlement intended to combat the adverse impacts of smoking.

Rhode Island recently announced a plan to buy out some holders of $197 million of the capital appreciation bonds (CABs) it sold in 2007, which would take $700 million off the $2.8 billion and allow for the refinancing of older tobacco bonds, but Oppenheimer is suing to stop the deal, as reported in Bloomberg and multiple news outlets on August 5.

Moreover, of the $51 million in settlement money Rhode Island received in 2014 (100% of which is pledged to repay the bonds), the state spent less than 1% of that amount on smoking prevention programs, according to the same ProPublica report.

"We're investing just $388,000 in the state smoking prevention program in 2014.  The CDC recommended we spend $15 million," said Karina Holyoak Wood, Director of Tobacco Free Rhode Island.  "Smoking costs Rhode Island close to $870 million in economic costs each year, and every year 1,600 Rhode islanders die from tobacco use, and thousands more suffer expensive and debilitating illnesses."

"We had that money," Holyoak Wood of the landmark tobacco settlement. "I would say it's shameful that the General Assembly and the Governors back then plugged deficits as one time fixes -- now there are even greater consequences than we realized."

Margaret Kane, who was with the Rhode Island chapter of the American Lung Association at the time of the settlement and opposed the state tobacco bonds, and is now with Operation Clean Government, said she was shocked at the level of the state's refinanced debt.

"I would have though of something like that could happen, but not to this extent," said Kane. "Holy crap."

States' New Realities

Cezary Podkul, author of Pro-Publica's state-by-state report, shows that a number of other states find themselves in the same predicament as Rhode Island, having utilized capital appreciation bonds -- "high-risk debt that squeezed out a few extra dollars for the governments but promised massive balloon payments, some in the billions, down the road."

"They amount to only a $3 billion sliver of the approximately $36 billion in tobacco bonds outstanding, according to a review of bond documents and Thomson Reuters data. But the nine states, three territories, District of Columbia and several counties that issued them have promised a whopping $64 billion to pay them off," writes Podkul.

"Just as mortgage lenders bet that home prices would keep rising, the tobacco deals relied on optimistic predictions of how much Americans would smoke," Podkul continued.  "Forecasters rightly saw that cigarette sales would continue to decline, but now the yearly drop — about 3 to 3.5 percent — is nearly double what was cooked into the deals."

URI Distinguished Professor of Business Edward Mazze offered a historical perspective of how Rhode Island came to this juncture.

"Rhode Island took its share of the tobacco settlement upfront in cash to balance the state's budget. Capital Appreciation Bonds (also known as tobacco bonds in this situation) were then issued by the state to private investors so that taxpayers would not be affected if and when tobacco money fell short in the future because of a decline in cigarette sales. Investors were promised huge payouts. This is a high-risk debt with a large balloon payment in the future to be repaid with settlement dollars and not tax dollars," said Mazze.  "These bonds are difficult and costly to sell.  One out of every three dollars coming in under the settlement goes to investors. Rhode Island recently presented a plan, which will not happen because of a lawsuit, to buy out some bond holders and refinance older tobacco bonds at better interest rates."

Mazze continued, "Even though most of the payments are not due for many years into the future, if past history is an indication of the future, Rhode Island will have a difficult time filling the gap between what it expects to continue to collect under the settlement and what it owes investors. What ever is collected in the future will have to be used to pay off the bonds. This means less tobacco funds available to support other government programs in the budget. This has a significant impact on balancing future state budgets. An example of poor governmental leadership when it comes to fiscal matters - spend now and don't worry about tomorrow."

Rhode Island's Failing Grade

In January, Rhode Island received an "F" from the American Lung Association in its "State of Tobacco Control 2014" report card.

"The good news is that Rhode Island earned an “A” grade for our smoke free air and our high cigarette tax, which prevents youth smoking and motivates adults to quit," said Holyoak Wood. "The bad news is that Rhode Island earned an “F” for being one of the bottom ten states in the country for tobacco control and prevention spending."

"When tobacco companies agreed to turn over this money to compensate the victims who were mislead about the deadly effects of smoking, that's what the states should have spent the money on," said Holyoak Wood.  "Now we're living with the legacy today of leaders who didn't use that money to help people with their battles against lung cancer, or provide cheaper coverage -- we were meant to put that money into prevention, which is the best strategy.

"It's broken promises -- that's how I see it as well.  Broken promises of political leaders to the people.  This money was so hard fought, it was such an enormous victory -- the biggest settlement ever from corporations to the people of the country, it was a wonderful thing that the states' Attorney Generals managed to win.  And Wall Street came along and made them great offers, and look what's happened."

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The American Heart Association recently launched its new brand “Life is Why.”  We want people to experience more of life's precious moments. It's why we've made better heart and brain health our mission. And until there's a world free of heart disease and stroke, we'll be there, working to make a healthier, longer life possible for everyone. Why do we do what we do? Life is why.

What is your “why?”  Tell us why you advocate for heart health and stroke care and your story could become our “Advocate Spotlight” in an upcoming issue of the Rhode Island Beats newsletter.  Simply email your story along with a photo to Megan Tucker at

Need inspiration?  Check out

Our success at the American Heart Association would not be possible without the passion, dedication and commitment of advocates like YOU!  Thank you for all that you do!

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Rhode Island Has Second Lowest Youth Smoking Rate in the Nation

The Rhode Island Department of Health recently announced that the Ocean State has the SECOND LOWEST youth smoking rate in the nation.  The finding is based on national survey data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The results show that Rhode Island’s youth smoking rate dropped from 11% in 2011 to 8% currently (second only to the state of Utah). 

This good news is in large part due to the strong tobacco control laws that Rhode Island has on the books – laws that we fought for!  These proven policies include our comprehensive smoke-free air law and high cigarette tax.  But our work is not over – an 8% youth smoking rate is still too high and we won’t stop until that number is zero!   

Click here to view the Department of Health’s press release:

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Is Your Community HeartSafe?

The Rhode Island HeartSafe Community Program is a collaborative effort between the Department of Health’s Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention Program and the American Heart Association. This initiative is based on the principle that lives can be saved by being prepared with early access to care, early CPR, early defibrillation, and early advanced care. The goals of the RI HeartSafe Community Program are to:



  • Increase the number of community members trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR);
  • Increase the number of first responders equipped with automated external defibrillators (AEDs); and
  • Ensure appropriate pre-arrival instructions and optimize the prehospital care system.

The following towns have been designated as Rhode Island HeartSafe Communities and received program signs and decals to proudly display in their communities:

  • Narraganset: August 2014
  • Portsmouth: February 2014
  • Cumberland: December 2013
  • Barrington: September 2013
  • Coventry: April 2013
  • East Providence: April 2012
  • South Kingstown: October 2010
  • Warwick: January 2010
  • Westerly: January 2010, renewed April 2013

Is your city/town on the list? If not, start a conversation in your community and urge your city/town leaders to become HeartSafe! For more information, visit the Department of Health’s website:

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Mended Little Hearts of Rhode Island

The American Heart Association is proud to collaborate with Mended Little Hearts of Rhode Island to raise awareness of congenital heart defects.  We are truly blessed to work with this amazing group of families and little heart heroes! 

Mended Little Hearts provides hope and support to children, families, and caregivers impacted by congenital heart defects in order to extend and improve quality of life.  Here’s just a few ways that Mended Little Hearts is making tremendous impact across the Ocean State:


  • In February 2014, the American Heart Association and Mended Little Hearts families met with Governor Chafee to raise awareness of congenital heart disease and to discuss the importance of screening all Rhode Island newborns for critical congenital heart defects using a simple, non-invasive and inexpensive pulse oximetry test.

  • In June 2014, Mended Little Hearts came out in force to support the Southern New England Heart Walk along with 9 other teams focused on congenital heart disease.  Together, the groups raised more than $18,000 for pediatric cardiovascular research!

  • Also in June 2014, Mended Little Hearts submitted comments on the RI Department of Health’s proposed regulation that would add critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) to the state’s mandatory newborn screening panel.  Click here to view the comments: (Please visit the site to view this file)

  • And, Mended Little Hearts will host many social and educational events throughout the year for children with CHD and their families.

For more information on Mended Little Hearts of Rhode Island, contact or visit   



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Pulse Ox Screening for Newborns: RI Department of Health Releases Proposed Regulation

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association, little heart heroes in red superhero capes, and families from Mended Little Hearts met with Governor Chafee to discuss the importance of screening all Rhode Island newborns for critical congenital heart defects using a simple, non-invasive and inexpensive pulse oximetry test.  We are excited to announce that the Department of Health recently released a draft regulation that would add critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) to the mandatory newborn screening panel in the Ocean State.

The Department of Health has been working with Rhode Island’s birthing hospitals over the past two years to implement pulse oximetry screening for CCHD.  We greatly appreciate the leadership of the Department and the many physicians, nurses and medical professionals who helped lay a strong foundation for this policy change. 

Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect in the U.S. and the leading killer of infants with birth defects.  The evidence speaks for itself – wider use of pulse ox screening could help identify more than 90 percent of heart defects.  

To view the American Heart Association’s comments on the proposed regulation click here: (Please visit the site to view this file)

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RI Legislative Session Concludes

The 2014 Legislative Session wrapped up on June 21st.  It was an interesting few months at the State House following the mid-session transition in the House Leadership.  We found ourselves trying to hold ground on several issues while working in a very new political dynamic.  But through it all, one thing remained constant – the passion and commitment of our You’re the Cure advocates!

Following is a quick recap of some key issues:

  • Electronic Cigarette Sales to Youth Prohibited:  Advocates successfully defeated a bad e-cigarette bill that was moving through the House in the final days of the 2014 Legislative Session.  The bill was completely disingenuous – lacking the licensing provisions, enforcement, and retailer penalties needed to truly protect our children from a highly addictive new product.   The General Assembly ultimately approved the Senate version of the e-cigarette bill, which – on a positive note – restores licensing, enforcement and penalties and will truly keep these products out of the hands of kids.  However, the final bill falls short of defining e-cigarettes as tobacco products.  Doing so would have ensured that e-cigarettes would be included in all of the important public health protections that apply to tobacco products – both current law and future regulations.  In addition, the final bill does not require age verification for online or mail-order sales.  We will keep working to address these issues.

  • Stroke Registry Maintained: A bill that would have weakened the state’s stroke registry did NOT win final approval.  Advocates questioned the proposal and the impact it would have on the integrity and functionality of the registry.  The stroke registry was established in 2009 – the RI Stroke Task Force utilizes the data to identify gaps and improve care for stroke patients.

  • No CPR in Schools Funding:  We were disappointed to learn that funding for CPR in Schools was NOT included in the FY 2015 Budget.  Advocates mounted a strong campaign, but could not overcome a projected deficit and revenue needed to fund the Leadership’s top priorities – corporate and estate tax cuts.  We have spoken with our legislative champions and will plan to pursue this campaign again next year. 

Thank you for your support and advocacy throughout the session!

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Lynette Lopes, Rhode Island

I was a healthy young woman preparing to marry in three weeks. I noticed I chest tightness and slowness. A concerned doctor friend advised investigation where my primary care physician did an EKG and referred me to a cardiologist, Dr. Luttmann.

On December 26, 2008, my fiancé and I visited Dr. Luttmann’s office where, after an echocardiogram, he diagnosed Viral Myocarditis, resulting in 20% cardiac output.

Living life became more difficult, I was moving slower and developed a persistent cough. I kept adjusting to my weakening body, pushing through with Dr. Luttmann’s help.

In short order I developed congestive heart failure and pulmonary embolisms. Breathing became tougher with frequent episodes of CHF. I was hospitalized at Miriam Hospital 14 times from 2009 – 2012, which became my home away from home.

On June 29, 2011 while visiting my parents I collapsed. My Mom heard me hit the floor. As she tried to call fire rescue for help, she gave what turned out to be life-saving compressions. The EMS team shocked me three times, performed CPR, then transported me to Miriam hospital where I was the second person they gave ice therapy and induced a coma for three days. Amazingly, I awoke with no brain damage after a 10 minute cardiac arrest.

I received a defibrillator and soon after Dr. Luttmann informed me that I would need a heart transplant and introduced me to Dr. DeNofrio the director of the Transplant program at Tufts Medical Center.

I was sent to Tuft’s, evaluated and added to the transplant list on April 24, 2012. I was told it would be approximately 9-18 months before I might receive a heart and that we had options to bridge me until a transplant was possible. By May my cardiac output had reached 5% and I was being sustained by 24 hour IV meds. Not long after, the meds could no longer sustain my heart and by mid-June a Heart Mate(LVAD) was implanted. Five days later while walking with the physical therapists, I suffered a massive heart attack that damaged my right heart. The prognosis was bleak, with talk of a BiVAD implantation, but I was too weak for the surgery.

Four weeks later a new heart became available. On July 18, 2012, at 3:30 AM, I emerged from surgery with a brand-new heart. As one part of my journey was ending a new part had just begun.

My recovery has been like a roller coaster ride; times when I feel great, then times when minor issues knock me on my butt for weeks. It’s an adjustment, but we all have to make those.

My spirituality has always played a major role in my life. It has been my lifeline through this illness. My faith has provided some of the best doctors, family, friends and true miracles which have been witnessed by many. My faith in the love that surrounds, has sustained me.

To everyone who played a role in my journey, I extend a sincere and heartfelt thank you. There aren’t words that can accurately express how I feel for the love, support, prayers, and care that I received from so many. My prayer would be that everyone who has to travel this journey would receive the same blessings of a godsend husband and family, church family and friends as well as the doctors, nurses and staff that took such good care of me.


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Winners of Rhode Island Get Active! Poster Contest Announced

The American Heart Association is committed to helping kids and families live heart-healthy lives. As we educate and lobby lawmakers to support policies that promote healthy and active communities in Rhode Island, we wanted to take an extra step and get students involved through the 2014 Get Active! Poster Contest.

We asked students in grades K-8 to draw a poster and show us their favorite physical activity – and it’s clear from the entries we received that Rhode Island kids love to be active. We received over 1,000 entries, which made the judging extremely difficult. We definitely have tremendous talent in Rhode Island!

The following contest winners were recently recognized during an award ceremony at the State House:

In the Grades K-2 Category:

  • 1st place - Olivia Durant from Hathaway School in Portsmouth
  • 2nd place – Mychaela Brouillette from BF Norton School in Cumberland
  • 3rd place – Maciej Tabak from Melville School in Portsmouth

In the Grades 3-8 Category:

  • 1st place – Kayla Aquilante from Winsor Hill School in Johnston
  • 2nd place – Susanna Ovsepian from Stadium School in Cranston
  • 3rd place – Janyla Donahue from BF Norton in Cumberland

Special thanks to our sponsor East Commerce Solutions - and to all of the teachers and students who participated in this year’s contest!

Click the following link to view some of the amazing entries:


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