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Meet Jenni Isenhower, Minnesota's Heart Walk Coordinator!

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What brought you to be an advocate for the American Heart Association?

I was first drawn to the American Heart Association because it seemed to have its hand in a lot of different things. I’ve learned that the American Heart Association is not just trying to cure heart disease, they are raising funds, providing resources to survivors and caregivers, encouraging healthier lifestyles, and researching new ways to prevent, detect and treat cardiovascular disease and stroke. As well as educating lawmakers, policymakers and the public to advocate for changes to protect and improve the health of our communities. Being an advocate for something that is so needed is why I’ve stayed.

What issues or policies are you most passionate about and why?

I grew up in a very small town surrounded by corn fields so I am passionate about Systems of Care. Often, a lot of the System of Care legislative / doctor talk goes over my head. However, I know that statistics show that minutes matter and can drastically change the outcomes for victims of a STEMI Heart Attack. I love the idea that anyone in the state of Minnesota, even those who are surrounded by corn fields, will get the fastest and best care, anywhere in the state. “Where you live, should not determine IF you live.”

What is your favorite advocacy memory or experience so far and what made it great?

Attending the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition Day at the Capitol has been my favorite experience so far. It was astounding to see all of the people gathered together to be the voice for tiny humans to make a difference in their lives and the lives of future generations.

What is your favorite way to be active?

Anything that involves a new adventure… biking, hiking, kayaking, climbing, snowboarding, twirling!

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable?

Watermelon

Our 2016-17 Louisiana Advocacy Committee recently named Tamara Sabine, of Baton Rouge, to lead the committee this year. Tamara served on the state advocacy committee last year, and has been an active volunteer for the American Heart Association (AHA) for 10+ years. She looks forward to stepping in this leadership role.

Occupation: Federal and State Grants Coordinator, Office of the Mayor-President, City of Baton Rouge

How long have you been a volunteer with the AHA and in what capacity?  More than 10 years on the Louisiana Advocacy Committee

Who or what inspires you to help and volunteer your time to the work of the AHA?  My children – A.J. (15), Lauren (13) and Oliver (10). I first started volunteering with the AHA when asked by Terri Broussard, Government Relations Director at the time, to assist in the smoke-free air campaign to advocate for tobacco-free zones in public buildings, including restaurants. I’ve always chosen restaurants that are non-smoking, or have well contained smoking areas to take my family to. I want my children to grow up in clean air, not around smoke because I know the dangers of secondhand smoke on children.

What heart-healthy issue is most important to you and why?  Healthy eating. Too often families choose foods based on cost – how cheap it is – and not on how nutritious it is. So, children and adults don’t get enough nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and get too much of fats, sugars and chemicals. I strive to feed my family as many fruits, vegetables and lean meats as I can afford, and I truly understand how difficult that can be for families, but it has to be done – or our children will have to deal with obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

What are two ways you keep yourself healthy?  I eat the healthiest diet I can – lots of fruits and vegetables every day and I try to walk every evening for 30 minutes.

How is your community healthy that makes you proud?  My community is working on getting healthy. There is the bike/walking path on the levee, the Red Stick Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, more restaurants & public areas in Baton Rouge are smoke free due to AHA’s efforts with the legislature.

How do you stay updated on current public policies in your state?  I read the AHA emails that are sent out and respond as needed.

If you could help advocate for one change in your state, what would it be and why?  That’s a good question. I’d say more bike/pedestrian-friendly walkways, or more support for healthier school lunches. It’s gotten a little better, but there’s still room for improvement.

Do you have a favorite AHA/ASA event you annually attend?  What is your motivation to participate?  I love the Go Red For Women event, and attend when I receive enough notice. I don’t mind fundraising for the AHA, but I need more notice than to hear about the event on the news the morning of the event. I also enjoy attending Lobby Day at the legislature, when my schedule allows.

Have you attended a state or federal lobby day on behalf of the AHA?  If so, please briefly explain your experience.  Yes, I have attended the state lobby day numerous times, I enjoy being able to chat with legislators about what’s needed in regards to tobacco-free living, healthy meals for kids and first aid needs in the state. I have not attended a federal lobby day, but welcome the opportunity to.

What have you learned in your time being a You’re the Cure advocate?  If everyone pitches in, and does one little thing, we can change our city, our state, our nation, our world. I truly believe that.

Why would you tell a friend or family member to join You’re the Cure?  I would tell them to join You’re the Cure to stay abreast of what’s going on in the legislature and in Congress regarding health-related issues, because heart disease and other health issues eventually affect us all.

Tell us one unique thing about yourself.  I’ve lived in Baton Rouge all of my life, but was born on a military base.

Guest Blogger: Candida Akins

I gave birth at 32 weeks to two beautiful babies on July 3, 2005.  Shortly after giving birth, I became very ill. I stayed in the hospital for seven days with a high fever and high blood pressure, drenched with sweat. The doctors tested me for everything because they did not know what could possibly be wrong; they even thought I had hepatitis at one point because ALL of my blood work was abnormal.

On day six, the fever disappeared and I was discharged on day seven. I went home, but I was still sick. I tried to do my best as a new mother, but I just could not do anything without feeling sick. I began to feel as if I could not walk very far without having shortness of breath. My body was swollen and I could not sleep at night. I would jump up during the middle of the night gasping for air because I could not breathe.

I knew something wasn't right. Finally, I called my OB-GYN and my family physician. I went to see both of them and I made several trips to the local emergency room to only be diagnosed with postpartum depression. I felt so sad because I could not enjoy my babies like I wanted to. I was in so much pain that I could not hold my babies for very long. By this time, I was barely making steps without shortness of breath, I couldn't eat without vomiting (busted a blood vessel in my eye because of severe vomiting), and my legs were severely swollen, along with my belly. 

After convincing someone at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH) that I was not depressed, I finally was evaluated for possible congestive heart failure.  I was seconds away from dying by now!  I was home for a month suffering before I was initially diagnosed with Post-Partum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM).  My body was shutting down completely, and I was in so much pain.

Once I made it to TMH for an evaluation, I was immediately taken for testing.  The first test was an echocardiogram.  My EF was 5-10 %( normal range 60-65%)!  I had a heart murmur and I was in congestive heart failure.  My family immediately rushed to the hospital to be with me.  They were terrified because they had watched me for an entire month going through phases of death.  It was a sight to see, especially by my loved ones.

I was immediately admitted to ICU because I was in critical condition.  It was not clear if I would make it.  I remembered being placed in ICU and given medication that night.   I also remember seeing a bright light for hours.  I am certain it was God!  He was watching over me and healing my body.  I was 140lbs that night, but that morning I was 120lbs.  I lost 20lbs of fluid overnight. 

The doctors could not believe that I was improving so soon and healing without any complications.  Eventually, I was well enough to go home.  I was referred to a cardiologist in the hospital and I was scheduled to meet with him periodically to monitor my heart problem. 

Six months passed and I received the news from my doctor that I was not improving as expected, and I would possibly need an implant.

 I went to my appointment and I felt confident that I would fight this disease.  I was still taking my medicine and suffering from the leg fatigue and pain.  My doctor at Mayo Clinic took me off the eight meds down to two per day. 

He looked at me and said, "I am going to do everything that I could to help you heal".  I was so afraid and sad because I was so young and experiencing this type of illness and crisis. 

One year passed and I was still here on earth with my babies. My church was praying for me as well as my family and friends.  My pastor speaks of this today.  He often talks about how the church was fasting and praying for my healing. 

Today, ten years later, I have another set of twins and my EF is 55-60%.  I am still taking two meds per day and I am healthy!  I did not have a reoccurrence with my second pregnancy, but my EF declined a little I made it through delivery without any complications.  God knew exactly what He was doing for me.  My first doctor told me I would die if I had more kids, but God wasn't ready for me.  I believe there is a purpose here on earth for me.  I will graduate from college next week with a bachelor's degree after all.  Ten years ago I fought for this moment to share with someone else.  I fought for my life to raise my kids and raise awareness!  To all of the PPCM mommies, keep fighting and keep the faith!