American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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Don Bremner is a Kiwi in New Mexico. Not the fruit, but a term of endearment after New Zealand's national bird.  Don has brought the message of healthy heart management across the Pacific to the New Mexico State Legislature as a member of the State Advocacy Committee.

“I'm passionate about using my 3 heart experiences to help educate others", said Don. "I was very fit and healthy with no visible or medical risk factors. Like many others I had a strong dose of 'my lifestyle is so different to my Dads before he died from a heart attack' so I didn't believe the invisible hereditary risk factor would impact me. I found out how strong this factor is in my first event aged 51" said Don.

"Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer in the USA but for way too many people, their heart is out of sight, out of mind," he said. "A healthy heart beating around 100,000 times a day, 35 million times a year, is put under pressure by being overweight, smoking, lack of exercise, stress and other common risk factors."

Don encourages people to visit their Doctor, to know their numbers, then listen to and act on their advice.

“I hope that in bringing these issues to the attention of respected legislators will help generate policy and education opportunities that encourage people to live healthier and longer" he said.

At the New Zealand Heart Foundation, Don gave over 40 presentation to service and business groups on heart health. For him, reaching out to help people and their families, understand the dynamics of the heart and risk factors for cardiovascular disease is a lifesaving activity.

Guest Blogger: Sandra Miller Roberson, You're the Cure advocate

Diagnosed and medicated at the age of 30, I did not understand the seriousness of controlling my high blood pressure. I had always heard it was the "silent killer" but really did not believe that pertained to me. After training with a personal trainer and settling in with a healthy diet, I decided a few months later that I no longer needed high blood pressure medicine and stopped refilling my prescription.

Not taking my blood pressure medicine was one of – ok, THE worst decision of my life. Not only did my life change dramatically at age 37, but my careless and selfish decision impacted so many others.

It was a beautiful fall day in 2009 and I was feeling great as I worked out with my trainer. All of the sudden, I was on the gym floor with a massive, exploding headache. My attempts to just go home and rest were thwarted by my friends at the gym, and I found myself in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. My last memory for several weeks was of calling my mom and telling her I was sorry, and that I loved her.

Ruptured brain aneurysm - a hemorrhagic stroke - is what I heard whispered in the ambulance that day.  What? I didn't even know what that was, much less how it happened to me at age 37. However, after weeks in the ICU and more than a full year of recovery, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about how and why this happened to me. 

Many people have aneurysms, which are balloon-like bulges or weaknesses in the vessels of the brain.  Over time, high blood pressure will put extra pressure on those vessels, eventually pushing blood into the aneurysm until the pocket grows and finally bursts. 

That's what happened to me, but unlike so many others, I made it to the hospital, and great doctors and nurses saved my life. Odds for a full recovery from a hemorrhagic stroke are extremely low, and while I beat the odds, my recovery would take time and patience. For weeks, I slept 16 hours a day napping, and even months later, would find myself needing multiple naps to make it through the day. While I was back at work eight weeks or so after the event, I was tired and overwhelmed all the time. I fought against the idea that I - always happy and easy-going - was now suffering from depression, which my doctor warned me would occur. I was medicated for depression for more than a year.

Today, I lead a normal and healthy life, and have returned to working out without restrictions. But with every headache I have, I am reminded that high blood pressure is a "silent killer" and I was one of the lucky ones. Now, unlike before, I take my blood pressure medicine, and will for the rest of my life.

Julie Rickman Kansas

American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women announced this year’s “Real Women,” national spokespeople for the cause, and one of the nine women selected is from Overland Park, Kansas.  Julie Rickman will join group members from across the country to share their personal stories, encouraging women to take a proactive role in their health by knowing their family history and scheduling a well-woman visit.

Rickman thought she was suffering from asthma when two days after Christmas she found herself in the ER with shortness of breath and fatigue. But after sharing her family history of heart disease, doctors ordered testing that revealed two blockages, requiring a stent, and evidence that Julie had a heart attack sometime during the past month.

“If you want to watch your children grow up, know your family history and share this information with your doctor at your Well-Women Visit. Your children want their mommy in their life,” Rickman says.

Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year, yet they are 80 percent preventable. One risk factor that cannot be prevented is family history.

According to a recent study in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, 95.7 percent of study respondents considered knowledge of family history important to their personal health, but only 36.9 percent reported actively collecting health information from their relatives.

“Heart disease is often said to be a silent killer. It is essential that our patients don’t remain silent as well. A patient who understands their family history and shares that information with their physician is able to paint a complete picture of their health in the exam room,” says Dr. Tracy Stevens, Medical Chair of Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center. “That complete picture is vital for accurately diagnosing and treating heart disease before it’s too late.”