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Mississippi Advocate Fights for Medical Research Funding

by Elizabeth W. on Monday, September 30, 2013

Dr. Rob Rockhold, long time American Heart Association volunteer from Mississippi, represented the American Heart Association at the Rally for Medical Research in September 2013. Here is his story.

I had the pleasure to attend the Rally for Medical Research in Washington, D.C. on September 17-18, 2013. Nearly 300 individuals from 172 organizations, including the American Heart Association, met to urge Congressional representatives to support investment in the medical research enterprise and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  This exquisitely orchestrated and highly targeted event followed the momentum created on April 8, 2013, when close to 10,000 persons rallied in Washington to highlight the need for and advantages from increasing the priority for investment in our NIH.  The American Heart Association (AHA) contributed close to 40 representatives and staff to this joint effort.
 
A general reception was held on the evening of September 17 at the Capital Visitor Center.  Those speaking included leaders from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the lead organization for the event; from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance; Dr. Ann Bonham, Chief Scientific Officer of the Association for American Medical Colleges; The Honorable Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa); Erin Brady, Miss USA 2013; and survivors and family members affected by heart disease and cancers, among others.  Following the reception, the American Heart Association contingent met at the Art & Soul Restaurant for an appropriately Southern-themed dinner prepared by Executive Chef Art Smith, formerly the personal chef to Oprah Winfrey.  Mariell Jessup, M.D., President of the AHA and Elliott M. Antman, M.D., President-Elect, were the hosts.
 
On the following morning, the greater group convened at the Reserve Officer’s Association building on Capital Hill for a briefing and training prior to sending individual contingents to the various legislative offices.  Sue Nelson, Vice-President of Federal Advocacy for the AHA joined Margaret Foli, CEO of the AACR and the Honorable John Porter, Chairman of Research! America and former Member of Congress to counsel the group to send a common message of “No More Cuts” to the National Institutes of Health.  Legislators were urged to find ways to eliminate the impact of sequestration on medical research funded by the NIH.  As the representative from Mississippi, I visited the offices of Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, as well as Representatives Gregg Harper and Alan Nunnelee, meeting variously with the members themselves and/or staff. 
 
All meetings were cordial and all involved expressed realization of the benefits provided by NIH and the medical research it supports.  There is a strong sentiment that investment in NIH returns significant benefit.  Regrettably, there was also a common expression of frustration, by members and their aides, with a deadlocked legislative funding process.  It was clear that advancement of support for the NIH, for medical research and for reduction of heart disease and stroke will require continued, dedicated and focused attention by the AHA and its volunteers in these times of partisan disagreement and funding restrictions.  We must redouble our efforts.                      

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