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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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Why I Advocate for Heart

I’m excited to share my personal journey of advocating for heart, which ultimately led to AED machines being placed at my workplace. It began in 1998 when my husband learned he had a heart murmur and kept tabs on it via an annual EKG. However things worsened and his bicuspid aortic valve was weakened causing aortic regurgitation (AVR) and endocarditis, a serious infection in his heart.

Life was fairly normal until February of 2013 when he thought he was run down by allergies, very common for anyone living in Central Texas. Unfortunately, it was his heart. 

On May 22nd of 2013 he had open-heart surgery where his aortic valve was replaced by bovine tissue. "Holy Cow" is said in our household daily! He is recovering well and feels better with each day. This event is the scariest thing we've ever been though in our lives.

This has led me to become a strong advocate for the American Heart Association. I joined the AHA’s Passion Committee to promote physical activity, research and awareness for leading healthier lives.

In February 2014, my mission was for all our work associates to be dressed in red for National Wear Red Day. Thanks to the support of my husband and many work colleagues, our office shined in red that day! We hosted a staff get-together where I shared our story and University of Texas Volleyball Coach Salima Rockwell shared her personal survivor story with our team.

This event lead to an engaged Q&A session where a colleague discussed how an AED machine could have saved the life of a dear friend. His question sparked a project in our team immediately.  From there we made it our mission to get AEDs placed in and around our office. 

I’m thrilled to report, AED machines are now placed in our workplace creating an environment to treat sudden cardiac arrest. My vision is to continue to make an impact and be viewed as an active, engaged contributor in the heart health community.

This is just a small example of how one person sharing their voice can lead to big change.  I hope you will join me in being an advocate for heart health at your workplace, school, community, or wherever there may be a need!

This post was written by AHA volunteer and Passion Committee member April Wade Peters.

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Advocating for Change: July Smoke-Free Update

This month we have two exciting updates on local smoke-free efforts.  Wichita Falls passed a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance on June 17th and we are seeing great progress in Lubbock.

Wichita Falls

We are very excited to announce that the City of Wichita Falls passed a comprehensive ordinance on June 17th! Wichita Falls makes the 37th city in Texas to pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance!

Mayor Glenn Barham, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Smith, Councilman Ben Hoover, and Councilman Brian Hooker all voted YES to a comprehensive ordinance that prohibits smoking in all restaurants and bars by 2016.  This is a great accomplishment for all 104,553 residents of Wichita Falls. 

The Smoke-Free Wichita Falls coalition spent many hours meeting with councilmembers, recruiting volunteers, and getting petition cards signed throughout the city.  Many members of the coalition including Mindy Giles, Glen Rabideau, Rachel Brown, and Jackie Bush testified at multiple City Council meetings to urge the Council to support a comprehensive ordinance. 

AHA volunteers sent out numerous letters, emails, and phone calls to the councilmembers. During the day of the vote AHA volunteers delivered over 250 petition cards from Wichita Falls residents supporting a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance.  There are now over 300 Wichita Falls residents in our You’re the Cure network!  Pictured are just some of the volunteers that attended the City Council meeting. 

Thank you to all the volunteers who made this possible.   Your hard work and dedication paid off.  It is because of your work that all Wichita Falls workers will be able to breathe smoke-free air by 2016! 

 

Lubbock

The West Texas Smoke-Free Coalition has been busy fighting for clean air!  On June 26th the West Texas Smoke-Free Coalition made presentations during citizen’s comments about the public health impact of secondhand smoke exposure. 

AHA Executive Leadership Team member Dr. Scott Shurmur presented evidence to the City Council regarding a decrease in hospitalizations once a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance is in place.  Dr. Naidu Chekuru, Kavitha Selvan, Matthew Harris, and AHA Local Policy Manager Kelsey Bernstein all presented public health arguments to the Council. 

In addition to the presenters, there were over 20 hospitality industry workers in attendance!  In fact, during Matthew Harris’ testimony he asked all workers to please stand and get recognized.  This was incredibly impactful as it gave the City Council a great look at the lives that they will be directly saving if they pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance.  These workers as well as coalition members are pictured.  There were so many volunteers that attended that we could not fit them all in the picture!

The coalition has decided to present to Council again on July 10th.  This time they will be presenting the positive economic impact a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance will have in Lubbock.  Many business owners and workers will share their stories with the City Council during this time.  

 

 

Let us know about any smoke-free movement in your community!

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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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Teaching Gardens = Learning Laboratories for Kids

Studies show that when kids grow their own fruits and vegetables, they’re more likely to eat them. That’s the idea behind the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens.  While 1/3 of American children are classified as overweight or obese, AHA Teaching Gardens is fighting this unhealthy trend by giving children access to healthy fruits and vegetables and instilling a life time appreciation for healthy foods.

Aimed at first through fifth graders, we teach children how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants, harvest produce and ultimately understand the value of good eating habits. Garden-themed lessons teach nutrition, math, science and other subjects all while having fun in the fresh air and working with your hands.

Over 270 gardens are currently in use nationwide reaching and teaching thousands of students, with more gardens being added every day.  You can find an American Heart Association Teaching Garden in your area here or email teachinggardens@heart.org to find how you can get involved.

               

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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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Advocating for Change: Smoke-Free Update

Harlingen recently passed a strong smoke-free ordinance to join 35 other Texas cities in protecting their workers, residents, and visitors from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.  We have more information on the big win from Harlingen as well as updates from Wichita Falls and Lubbock!

Harlingen Goes Smoke-Free

Harlingen will now join 35 other cities in Texas that can proudly proclaim to be smoke free! 

During a specially called meeting on May 27, the Harlingen City Commission gave final approval to a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance that will make all worksites in the city of Harlingen, including restaurants, bars, private clubs, and gaming facilities smoke-free. 

Thanks to the efforts of You’re the Cure volunteers, who educated and encouraged the city commission to pass the ordinance, more residents will now be protected from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. During the campaign, volunteers helped secure 115 local smoke-free postcard petitions that were delivered to the city commission, emailed numerous letters to the mayor and commissioners, and testified at public hearings. 
 
AHA volunteer Dr. Victoria Parada, Stroke Director and Clinical Director of Neurosciences at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen, testified before the commission, submitted a letter to the editor to the local newspaper, and appeared on a local Fox/Univision morning show to help raise awareness about this issue. 

Erlinda Abantao, Stroke Coordinator at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen and AHA volunteer, testified twice before the commission and helped AHA staff to collect smoke-free petition cards from Harlingen residents.

A special thank you to long-time AHA volunteer and Smoke-Free Leadership Council member Ruthie Ewers, who personally reached out to the mayor and city commissioners to help them understand the need to strengthen their smoke-free ordinance, coordinated and attended meetings with the mayor and city commissioners, and testified at public hearings. Mrs. Ewers deserves a great deal of gratitude for her efforts in the Harlingen smoke-free campaign. 

Thank you to all of our You’re the Cure advocates who took action on this issue – your voices were heard! The Harlingen smoke-free ordinance goes into effect on July 1, 2014.

Wichita Falls

The Wichita Falls City Council is expected to vote on a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance on June 17th at 8:30am.  On June 3rd the Health Department presented the council with the proposed comprehensive ordinance. 

During public comments AHA volunteer Mindy Giles spoke about her time as a hospitality worker having to quit her job because of second-hand smoke exposure.  Mindy has also written this letter to the editor: http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2014/may/22/letter-editor-support-smoking-ordinance/.

We encourage everyone to share this story on social media and comment in support of this letter. In addition to Mindy’s testimony we had volunteers there wearing blue and a “I Support a Smoke-Free Wichita Falls” sticker to show their support.  As of today we have had 301 Wichita Falls residents sign “I Support Smoke-Free for My Community” petition cards.  The cards will be delivered to city council members on June 17th.   

Lubbock

We would like to highlight that our volunteer Michael Clintsman, owner of Local Bar and Grill, has decided to make his establishment smoke-free!  Over the past couple of months he has become very involved in the campaign as Co-Chair of the West Texas Smoke-Free Coalition and believes that this is best for his business, but most importantly, for the health of his employees. 

After holding a media advocacy training with the West Texas Smoke-Free Coalition they have become very strong advocates in the media. 

Most recently, Stephen LoCascio (General Manager for Bar PM) and Coalition Chair Matthew Harris gave interviews to KCBD which aired the story on June 4th.  Please view the article that was written about it here: http://www.kcbd.com/story/25697393/west-texas-smoke-free-coalition-wants-to-end-smoking-in-restaurants-and-bars and share the article on social media.

Please contact brian.bowser@heart.org if you would like to get more involved in Smoke-Free efforts in your city!

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State Advocacy Committee Shows Vision for Heart Disease Prevention in Texas

The Texas State Advocacy Committee met in Dallas June 4th to begin planning for the upcoming 2015 legislative session. This dedicated group of volunteers serves as the advisory board to Texas volunteers and staff on public policy issues. The committee establishes public advocacy priorities each year, while actively participating in grassroots and lobbying activities including coordinating You’re the Cure recruitment at local events, providing public testimony at committee hearings and delegation meetings, participating in federal and state in-district meetings and spreading the mission and message of the American Heart Association.

The State Advocacy Committee is made up of a diverse membership from around the state. We had great representation at our recent meeting including members from Abilene, Lubbock, D/FW, Austin, Houston, El Paso, and Galveston. And congratulations to 2014-2015 Chair Suzanne Lozano of San Antonio, who will lead this great committee into the next legislative session!

Contact Brian.Bowser@heart.org if you’d like to submit an application to join our State Advocacy Committee or one of our regional Grassroots Action Team. 

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Smoke-Free Texas Update

There has been great progress in our smoke-free efforts in Lubbock!  On April 17th we had volunteers sign people into You’re the Cure at a booth during the Go Red for Women Luncheon at the Overton Hotel.  We had over sixty Lubbock residents sign our “I Support Smoke-Free for My Community” petition cards.  We will be handing these petition cards out to city council members in the upcoming weeks. 

The West Texas Smoke-Free Coalition chair Matthew Harris and his wife Carrie Harris volunteered their time to work our booth and attend our Go Red for Women Luncheon.  The event was very successful and motivated a lot of Lubbock residents to get involved with our smoke-free efforts.

Our very first Grassroots Action Team meeting in Wichita Falls took place on April 4th.  Our volunteers for this team consist of United Regional Medical Center employees, concerned citizens, doctors, musicians, and cancer survivors. 

Everyone in Wichita Falls has been working extra hard in getting You’re the Cure sign-ups.  Our next GAT meeting will take place sometime early this month.  We will also be meeting with all council members to discuss a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance. 

Want to get involved in your city?  Leave a comment below or email Brian.Bowser@heart.org

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AHA Volunteer Tirelessly Pursues Improving Care

Dr. Robert Wozniak has tirelessly worked to improve care for cardiac patients since earning his medical degree from the Georgetown University School of Medicine.  Now residing in Austin, Texas he helps advance our mission across the country by sitting on AHA’s National Mission Lifeline Advisory Working Group.  Through advocating for change within our Mission Lifeline program and with elected officials he is a true leader in our efforts to improve cardiac care.

While twice receiving volunteer leadership awards from the American Heart Association Dr. Wozniak recently received the prestigious 2014 Frist Humanitarian Physician of the Year Award for HCA St. David’s North Austin Medical Center. The Frist Humanitarian Awards recognize employees, physicians and volunteers at HCA-affiliated facilities across the country who demonstrate extraordinary concern for the welfare and happiness of patients and their communities.

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