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Diana Cook, North Carolina

As a veteran volunteer with the American Heart Association, Diana Cook has been involved in a myriad of ways with the organization over the years. As a Charlotte Heart Walk team leader, she led her work team several years in a row – and every year provided countless volunteers to help with the walk. As a You’re the Cure Advocate, and as a NC Advocacy Coordinating Committee member, she has volunteered for countless National and State Lobby Days, trainings, and advocacy opportunities.

There is more to Diana than just her volunteerism. She has experience personal loss at the hands of cardiovascular disease and stroke. After losing her father to emphysema, then a dear friend who had just turned 40 passed away due to a sudden stroke two weeks later, she spent a long time of wondering why her friend’s symptoms had gone misdiagnosed. Diana connected with Betsy Vetter and found her passion with AHA and a home with You’re the Cure. As her work with YTC began, Diana was able to join the Smoke-Free Mecklenburg team as a co-chair, and worked with that initiative promoting smoke-free both locally and then at the state level. It was her friend, and her father, who kept Diana engaged with the American Heart Association and kept her inspired to make a difference.

If you were to ask Diana why she volunteers with the AHA, she would tell you that beginning with her Heart Walk experience and including her time as an advocate with You’re the Cure, her experience has become personal. "Advocacy was the "rescue," if you will, that I needed during a traumatic time after my Dad and best friend died," she says. "It helped me to put my energy into something positive that honored them at the same time.  The experience was effecting a positive change for our state of North Carolina to get smoke free restaurants passed and providing vital information to women on heart and stroke disease."

It is advocates like Diana, who join us in You’re the Cure and see what an infinite difference they make in the lives of those around them, that make our network as strong and as passionate as it is. Thank you to Diana, and to all of our advocates, for making a difference and saving lives.

STROKE – some things you may not know and were afraid to ask!

My name is Ron Drouin and I am a stroke survivor. There are two types of strokes, namely: Ischemic (which account for 87% of all strokes) and Hemorrhagic. There are many contributing factors: genetics, STRESS and Health habits. My factors were 40-plus years of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, along with lots of job-related STRESS.  

My stroke was Ischemic and it occurred during the night of my 62nd birthday in 2002. “Happy Birthday Ron”. After an unknown time at home, I spent another 4 to 6 hours in the ER before undergoing an MRI that determined I did in fact have a serious stroke.

After two weeks in intensive care, working with my bedside therapist, I was able to move two fingers in my left hand. I cried a good deal with that experience. I have always been a typical ―”macho man” and you are not supposed to do that, (cry that is), but since the stroke, I now find myself crying at sad parts of movies and sad stories, etc. My experience is that there are many stroke-related side effects.

I spent three months in a rehab hospital and one of the therapists jokingly said: “You won’t be able to go home until you can tie your shoelaces. I said: “You’ve got to be kidding, here let me show you.” Guess what! I couldn’t tie my shoelaces and had to learn how to do that as well.

I spent about a year in a wheel chair and many sessions working with physical therapists.  There is kind of a rule of thumb that therapy can help you recover some of your abilities for the first six months after the stroke.

There is another stroke- related category called TIA’s (Transient Ischemic Attack). These should be taken seriously as well. I experienced one of these recently and it was discovered that my heart would actually stop beating for 3, 4 or even 5 seconds on occasion. A neurologist at the hospital told me that the heart pauses would cause the blood to thicken for a short period and produce stroke symptoms. So doctors installed a pacemaker and my heart is beating fine now.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge someone who has been “my rock” and demonstrated the quintessence of “in sickness and in health”; it is namely my wife Sharon. We just celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary - 50 years - this past July. We are looking forward to better times and “happily ever after” In 2015 and the years to come.  

Dr. Bob Blackburn, North Carolina

Dr. Blackburn started his career as a volunteer with the American Heart Association in 1973.  In a nutshell, why did he get involved? He was working with students and saw the impact tobacco was taking on their lives.  The tremendous need for our youth to have better health started him on a path that he has followed for more than forty years.

Dr. Blackburn took his passion and turned it into reality by creating a heart health training center at Gardner Webb University, where he was teaching.  At the same time he became more involved with the AHA helping on various committees and wherever he could make a difference.  He served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Affiliate of the American Heart Association in 1991, and on the NC Board from 1990-1994.

He has served on the national steering committee for Jump Rope for Heart and been a long time member of the NC AHA Advocacy Coordinating Committee.  From 1973 to now, he has stayed true to one theme: improving health for students through prevention.

When asked what was the one moment that rose above the rest, he responded it came in the late seventies when he worked with the AHA to create a curriculum for physical education teachers’ called "Putting your Heart in the Curriculum."  He said it was a great experience that included a visit to AHA’s National Center in Dallas.

With more than forty years as a volunteer, Dr. Blackburn has witnessed a number of remarkable policy advances including NC’s smoke-free law. 

Dr. Blackburn is a native of North Carolina.  He is retired now and reports that his favorite things to do are spending time with his grandchildren, walking, and being with others.  Retirement hasn’t meant slowing down as a volunteer.  Dr. Blackburn says the work must continue because major challenges still exist and his commitment to prevention and the AHA mission remains strong.

He ended the conversation with some wisdom he’s gained along the way:

· Don’t burn bridges and don’t get mad at your legislators, two years from now you may need them.

· See the big picture and keep moving forward.

· You can make a difference – stand up and advocate!   

On behalf of You’re the Cure and the American Heart Association, thank you Dr. Blackburn for your advocacy!