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Stroke Strikes Close to Home

Guest Blogger: Marc Watterson, Utah Government Relations Director

Each of us who supports the AHA|ASA has our own unique path that brings us here. As the preeminent health organization that leads the fight against America’s #1 and #5 causes of death (heart disease and stroke) it is difficult to find anyone who hasn’t been significantly impacted by the death or disability of a loved one who has been impacted by these terrible diseases.

Here at the AHA|ASA we recently went through a little rebranding through our “Life is Why” campaign. This beautiful campaign (click here to watch a short video) draws in each of us to reflect upon the reason(s) why we engage in our life-saving mission and work. For some, it is Life, for others it could be a specific family member, friend, or loved one. Whatever the reason(s) for us being here, each of us came with a desire and the motivation to make a difference; to change the statistics; to make a significant impact in the fight against cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

A few months ago I had a chance to share with you a story of how our work to get CPR taught in every high school is already making an impact and saving lives. Moments like these have led me to develop my own personal mantra of “Saving lives is Why”. And while saving lives continues to be a personal motivation, the experiences of the past few weeks have drawn my attention a little bit closer to home.

My wife’s grandmother recently passed away from a hemorrhagic stroke. By all accounts, she was young and healthy. She will also be terribly missed. Our family was heartbroken as someone so close to us passed away much too soon. Her passing has caused all of us to reflect not only on the memories we will cherish of her, but also those moments that we might have let pass us by – those memories that could have been made but other things in life may have gotten in the way. It is in these moments when I have experienced a paradigm shift – or a change in the way I think about things. Losses such as these have a way of helping you understand that there truly is a price on time, on moments, and on memories. And that price is paid in the moments of lament afterward asking the grand question “What if …?”  

And so, as I reflect on the recent passing of our grandmother I find that my motivations, my “why”, is beginning to change – and that this change reinvigorates me to continue on in the work we do. For me, family – and the memories I want to make with them – are why I continue on in my fight to help me – and others – to lead healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

Continue on with us in our journey and our life-saving Mission. For with you, together, we can and will be the cure.

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Participate in your local August Recess!

We are looking for volunteers to take a meeting with their member of Congress while they are in town this August.

Important federal advocacy goals for Congress this year include:

  • CR (Cardiac Rehab) – changing a key Medicare provision so that those who have survived a coronary event can have easier access to rehabilitation programs
  • FA (FAST Act) – helping connect more stroke patients to life-saving telemedicine services
  • CNR (Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization) – protecting strong school nutrition standards
  • NIH (National Institutes of Health) – increasing federal research funding

 This is an important opportunity for us to get heart and stroke issues in front of our federal elected officials. If you can help us out, please contact Jess Nolan ( or 952-278-7928) as soon as possible.

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Catherine Zalewski, New Jersey

Catherine Zalewski is a mother of 2, a certified personal trainer, a former Mrs. New Jersey and a stroke survivor. She suffered her first stroke at the age of 28, about 6 months after giving birth to her daughter. It was discovered that she had a hole in heart which was repaired through surgery. She suffered another stroke shortly after the birth of her second child.

When Catherine had her first stroke, she was home alone with her infant and didn't know what was happening. She didn't receive treatment until 7 hours later. It took weeks for her to relearn how to do everyday tasks like walking and taking care of her baby. During the second stroke, she was at work with a client and someone realized what was happening. They called 911 immediately and she was taken to the hospital. She received tPA within an hour and it made a world of difference. This time, she went home within a week and was able to go back to her normal routine quickly.

Catherine knows firsthand how important it is for stroke patients to receive quality care in a timely fashion. That is why she is a volunteer advocate for the American Heart Association| American Stroke Association. Recently, Catherine testified before the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee on legislation that will improve the stroke system of care in New Jersey. She looks forward to continuing her advocacy as the bill makes it's way through the Legislature.

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Advocacy Victories in the Commonwealth

We are excited that with the end of our fiscal year that we have a lot of advocacy wins to celebrate. This was a true team effort that could not be achieved without your support of our work, taking action on alerts, being part of lobby day, and you, our dedicated volunteers being tireless advocates throughout the year. 

  • We were successful in leading a campaign to secure a $500,000 appropriation for Stroke Education and awareness; including a specific earmark of $200,000 to support the state Stroke registry.  The $200,000 earmark met the Goal Guidance criteria for Stroke Registry funding.  Not only were we successful in having the appropriation included in the legislature’s budget but we also successfully led a veto override campaign. This happened in July 2015. Just yesterday we were able to secure an additional $620,00 for stroke funding in the final budget that is on its way to the Governor’s desk so we are excited that the momentum of the original funding continues!
  • In the early winter Boston joined almost 90 cities and towns across Massachusetts to set the minimum age at 21 and with Boston joining the movement more than ½ of the population live in cities and towns where 21 is the minimum age.  In May we were able to add to the local 21 push when the cities and Towns of Brockton, Carver, Chelsea, Essex , Falmouth, Gloucester, Hadley, Halifax, Marblehead, Norfolk, North Adams, North Attleboro, Plainville, Shelburne, Southampton, Sunderland and Tewksbury cumulatively representing 324,199 residents were confirmed to have passed T-21 policy. In June the Cities/Towns of Great Barrington, Lowell, Stoughton and Worcester passed T-21 legislation adding an additional 317,365 Massachusetts residents living in communities that now have a minimum legal age of 21 to purchase Tobacco products.  These additions mean that 121 of the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth have T-21 laws. We are confident that this momentum will help us pass the Statewide Tobacco 21 bill by July 31st!
  • For a number of years we have been working on Complete Streets to secure necessary funding and policy language so that we can create healthier communities for all of our residents. I am excited to say that the Massachusetts state Transportation Improvement plan will be dedicating a total of $110 million dollars over the next 5 years to programs and projects to improve access to safe bicycle and pedestrian programs that will help people who walk, bike, run and roll do so more safely.  This campaign involved not only working to appropriate the funds but also to influence the Capital Improvement Plan to ensure that all modes of transportation are considered in road improvement design.
  • Lastly we were able to secure a win for our local CPR in Schools efforts. Unlike most other states, nearly all curriculum decisions are decided at the local level which means that we have to work with local school Superintendents and School Committees to implement CPR Graduation requirements in school districts across the State.  This particular win reflects the passage of policies in the Worcester, Springfield and the Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional school districts.  These three school districts represent an additional 3,169 High School Graduating Seniors who will learn the fundamentals of CPR before they graduate.  In all, we have worked with 2 additional districts that require some form of CPR training before students graduate with an overall total of 5,317 students trained each year.  We have also identified an additional 26 school districts with over 12,000 annual graduates to focus on in FY 16-17. This is a particularly satisfying win because it took a true team effort to get this down, and without our volunteer’s dedication and outreach we would not be making the progress that we are!

 Lastly as some of you know our legislative session is not over yet, we have until July 31st at midnight to get a few more policies passed. We are working towards:

  1. Statewide Tobacco 21
  2. Healthy Vending in State Buildings
  3. $6 million for Healthy Food Financing
  4. A Comprehensive Stroke System of Care
  5. Quality Physical Education
  6. AEDs in all Public Schools


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You're the Cure and You're Making it Happen!

Thank you to all our Great Rivers Affiliate You’re the Cure advocates! Because of you, we’re making Delaware, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia healthier places to live. It’s been a very busy few months in our state capitols and we wanted to take this opportunity to share a few of the policy wins YOU have helped make possible.

In March, Kentucky became the 29th state to pass legislation that will ensure all students learn lifesaving CPR before graduation. In June, neighbor Ohio became No. 33. Across the country, 34 states (including DE and WV) have now passed this lifesaving legislation, resulting in over 2 million students being taught every year. Pennsylvania is working bills in both the House and Senate and we're looking forward to celebrating another CPR success soon.

On June 16th, Philadelphia became the largest, and only the second, US city to pass a sugary drink tax. In addition to helping fight diabetes and obesity, the 1.5 cents per ounce tax will generate revenue to help fund citywide pre-K and improve parks and community centers. Read more about this historic win for Philadelphia's kids.

Our dedicated West Virginia advocates rallied over and over again during the 2016 Legislative Session to help beat back several attempts to weaken local smoke-free regulations.  In addition, the WV legislature passed a 65-cent increase in the state’s cigarette tax to help raise needed revenue to address the state’s budget shortfall.

WV passed Stroke Systems of Care legislation in March, helping ensure stroke victims get the fast care they need for the best chance of recovery.  Delaware will hopefully soon join them in improving stroke care in the First State. Senate Bill 265 passed the legislature in late June and is awaiting the Governor's signature. Kentucky passed similar legislation in 2015 and Ohio and Pennsylvania are also working on bills that will improve stroke care.

Again, thank you! We couldn’t have done it without you, and we look forward to continuing to work alongside our amazing advocates to create heart-healthier communities.

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Capital Region Heart Walk Brings Out Hundreds, Many Learn CPR

Over the weekend, the Capital Region Heart Walk was held at the Empire State Plaza in Albany. Despite the rain and the wind, the event brought out hundreds of people looking to make a difference in the lives of those living with heart disease or at risk for stroke. 

In addition to walking, there were lots of people who stopped by the Advocacy table to learn what we are working on this session. Many also stopped by the CPR table to see how quick and easy it is to learn CPR. 

It was a great day to be part of the team here at AHA!

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Albany County Executive Signs Tobacco 21!

On Wednesday June 8, County Executive Dan McCoy signed Tobacco 21 into law, making it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

As you are aware, smoking is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. This new law will make it harder for youth to get their hands on tobacco products, ultimately lowering the chances dramatically of them ever starting in the first place.

Your phone calls, e-mails, texts and signatures on our petition spoke volumes to the County Executive on how important this was to you. We couldn’t have gotten this passed without all of your help!


Below is some local media coverage of the County Executive’s signature:

We are now working with advocates in Montgomery County, Cortland County and Schenectady County on their own Tobacco 21 bills! Fingers crossed that New York will soon be the next state to pass statewide legislation protecting our youth from dangerous tobacco addiction!

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Strengthening the Chain of Survival in NJ

On June 6, several "You're the Cure" advocates in New Jersey successfully advocated for passage of the NJ stroke bill out of the Senate Health Committee!

The bill would strengthen requirements for primary and comprehensive stroke centers, recognize acute stroke ready hospitals, ensure that emergency medical services providers receive appropriate training and have protocols in place to transport stroke patients and provide coverage for telestroke services.

This is the first step in the process and we look forward to working with the NJ legislature to strengthen stroke care in NJ!

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The AHA|ASA is Striking Out Stroke with U of U Health Care

Since January 2015, University of Utah Health Care has partnered with the AHA|ASA on our Together to End Stroke initiative. This past month our two organizations were able to collaborate on a number of fun and educational activities across the Salt Lake Valley to encourage Utahns to know and recognize the F.A.S.T. symptoms of a stroke. Here is just a sampling of the activities:

  • Cafeteria tables in University Hospital were adorned with special table toppers to remind staff and visitors (family and friends of patients) of the F.A.S.T. warning signs. In coordination with this, AHA|ASA volunteers staffed an informational table near the cafeteria to educate staff and visitors on things they can do to avoid stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. *hint* – might want to put the salt shaker down 

  • The AHA|ASA had an opportunity to celebrate National Nurses Appreciation Day by delivering fruits and other heart and brain healthy snacks to nurses at UUHC. Staff also passed along special Together to End Stroke lapel pins to doctors, physician’s assistants and hospital leadership to remind them of the important role they each play in preventing and treating strokes. AHA|ASA staff also participated in the UUHC Stroke Symposium, held each year to bring stroke experts from across the intermountain region to train them on the latest and greatest in stroke treatment and care.

  • The UUHC and AHA|ASA also teamed up to reach out to the community. Clinics from across the valley were given special stroke awareness materials in both English and Spanish. A special “Striking Out Stroke” event was held downtown where hundreds of Utahns were taught to recognize stroke symptoms and encouraged to pitch F.A.S.T.  balls into a special pitching net that clocked how fast participants threw. Subway provided sandwiches and Muir Copper Canyon Farms provided apples to those who took a short F.A.S.T. quiz.

  • In addition to these great events, UUHC doctors had multiple opportunities to engage with the public through social media (#StrokeChat), television (cooking segment on KUTV 2 with Chef Bryan; interview on FOX 13 during our Striking Out Stroke event), and radio (interviews on KSOP 104.3 FM). Comcast Newsmakers also interviewed the UUHC Stroke Center Clinical Manager regarding stroke awareness and our upcoming Saving Strokes event on June 17 at Nibley Park. This golfing rehab event starts at 10:30 am and is for stroke survivors and their caregivers. The Comcast interview runs throughout June to raise awareness and encourage attendance in this wonderful event.

We are so grateful for our partnership with University of Utah Health Care and their commitment to helping us achieve our 2020 goal: To improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% while reducing deaths by heart disease and stroke by 20%. With strong partnerships like this we are well on our way to achieving our life-saving mission!

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Advocate Highlight - Claudette Kenmir

In December of 2006, I was a healthy 45 year old woman, newly divorced, with a high stress job and living by myself for the first time in my life. I started having severe headaches and couldn’t figure out why.  Two weeks before the onset of the headaches, I had begun to take birth control pills again for premenopausal symptoms.  I was in and out of the hospital and clinics for two weeks while trying to figure out what was going on. 

My youngest sister had come to stay with me to accompany me to my neurologists. On the morning of the appointment, I woke up, tripped getting into the shower and didn’t quite feel right. After dressing, I reached the top of the staircase and couldn’t figure out how to get down.  I ended up sliding down the staircase on my butt. My sister asked if we needed an ambulance but since I could still talk, I told her no. 

She quickly drove me to the doctor’s office and asked the doctor if I had had a stroke. He told my sister that I hadn’t but he was going to admit me to the hospital for some additional tests. 

A couple of days later, the doctor said I had actually had a stroke.  I spent that night crying myself to sleep unsure how I was going to be able to go home and live independently let alone return to work.  I couldn’t figure out how to work my Blackberry (this was 2006) or dial the phone that was next to my hospital bed. I couldn’t even wash my hair.

A few days later, I asked one of the wonderful nurses how a healthy 45 year old could have a stroke.  She said that it’s becoming more common. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  My family genetics at work!  

As far as anyone can tell, my outcome was positive, no noticeable deficits.  I was lucky! My stroke was a wakeup call. It made me “Stop and Smell the Roses”.  Now I play as hard as I work.   

I’m thankful for the work the American Heart and American Stroke Association does to educate the public on what can be done to prevent heart disease and reduce stroke.  I’m also very thankful for the support of my family and friends who helped me through a very frightening time.

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