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Margo Knefelkamp, Indiana

While working full-time and earning her MBA, Margo adopted healthier habits that helped her lose 100 pounds.  She joined a CrossFit gym and exercises multiple times per week. She cut sugar-sweetened beverages and began eating healthier foods. The results have been an inspiration to her family.

Jamie Schneider Nebraska

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking the lives of one in three each year. Sometimes, that statistic does not seem alarming because it is easy to trick yourself into thinking that the one person will not be you. Heart disease is for other people. But as the youngest of three daughters, and the proud aunt to three nieces (the picture is me with my sisters, sister-in-law and two nieces at my wedding in November), the chances are that if it is not me, it will be someone I love. A family member. A friend. And it is scary to think of that.

The greatest opportunity I have had since joining the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association as the Nebraska communications director in January 2015 is the opportunity to share lifesaving information with the women (and men) I love – and so many people I will never meet. About 80-percent of deaths from cardiovascular disease are preventable. Life is why it is important to communicate about heart-health.

Every day when I come to work, I know I have the extraordinary opportunity to change someone’s life for the better. Whether it is connecting with a local journalist for a heart-healthy story on tonight’s broadcast or posting a stroke fact on our social media, I know there is a conversation happening in someone’s home, a conversation that helps save lives. I have never worked for an organization where people are so passionate and so empowered to make a difference. Life is why we have such a fire.

Being involved with the American Heart Association is truly a work of heart. With help from advocates like you, the moments that make life worth living are a reality for millions of people. People who are saved by heart research. People who are saved by F.A.S.T. People who are saved by CPR. People who are saved by Mission: Lifeline. People who are saved by Jump Rope for Heart. People are saved every day because of the American Heart Association. 

Numbers and statistics can be scary but silence is even scarier. Today, I encourage you to start a conversation about prevention of heart disease or stroke. I promise I will do the same. Together, we can further this life saving mission.

Dana Powell, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate

On January 1, 2012, our family began the year with the birth of our second son, Asa Heard Karchmer. Like all babies, Asa delivered love and wonder into our lives. But those dreams were abruptly shattered on day two of Asa’s life. We came home from Watauga Medical Center in Boone, North Carolina and very soon realized Asa was struggling to breathe. We rushed back to the ER, then a few hours later, my husband and I followed the NeoNatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) transport team as it rushed Asa to Brenner Children’s Hospital in Wake Forest, NC. In the ambulance, Asa received oxygen, IV infusions of antibiotics and antivirals for a possible infections, and prostaglandins to treat a possible cardiac condition. No one was sure what was causing our baby’s medical emergency. Asa was in a state of shock when he arrived at the NICU at 2:00am on January 3 and we were uncertain whether or not he would survive the rest of the night.

By late morning, Asa’s clinical picture started to become clearer. A pediatric cardiologist confirmed that Asa was born with a very special heart – one which, anatomically speaking, worked just fine in utero but couldn’t make the transition to this world without serious medical intervention. His diagnosis was a congenital heart defect known generally as coarctation of the aortic arch (or more specifically as an interrupted aortic arch): a severe constriction of the main artery leading from the left ventricle of the heart and delivering blood to the entire body. It is among the more common types of cardiac defects among newborns and is often accompanied by other cardiac defects (in Asa’s case, a ventricular septal defect, or VSD, and a bicuspid valve). The cardiologist explained that this particular defect was not a problem in utero where there is a bypass shunt (called the PDA) between the pulmonary artery and the aorta, connecting below the arch and the coarctation. This duct began to close a day or two after birth, as it does in all babies. Yet in Asa’s heart, as the PDA closed, the coarctation prevented blood flow to most of his body, putting him into severe crisis.

We sat anxiously for a week with Asa in the NICU, enduring what seemed like an endless battery of tests on his fragile body (spinal tap, EEG, extensive blood work, MRI, etc.) until he was stable enough for heart surgery. So when he was just one week old, Asa underwent open heart surgery to repair the coarctation and VSD. His chest was left open for four more days to accommodate internal swelling but otherwise, Asa pulled through like a superstar. A miracle. In another three weeks, he was nursing well and we finally took him home to his older brother, and friends, in the mountains where we live.

Our experience with Asa’s newborn cardiac crisis gave us emotional and spiritual resources that we would draw upon again, six months later, when he developed Infantile Spasms, a fairly rare and frequently devastating form of childhood epilepsy. Although Asa’s epilepsy remains a daily battle, he is now a lively 3 ½ year old, with a strong and caring heart. He is now the middle of three brothers, each unique, yet Asa’s more difficult journey has deepened and strengthened our own hearts, along with the hearts of everyone who knows him.

Blog content provided by Dana Powell, mother of Asa, and You’re the Cure Advocate

Working at St. Johns County Fire Rescue definitely was not in my life's plan. I wanted to become a high school history teacher. But, things work out for a reason and to say I found my calling would be an understatement.

In 2012, I developed a "Hands Only CPR" program and thought that the high school level was the perfect place to start. These students were about to go out into the real world and possibly be in circumstances where knowing CPR could save someone's life. In April 2012 I approached one of our high school principals and asked if he would allow us to attempt to train their senior class and he said, "Sure." The following month, we held the first Hands-Only™ CPR senior class event. Through the course of the day, we trained almost 300 seniors in Hands-Only CPR and how to use an AED. This program was such a success that we expanded it to all seven St. Johns County high schools.

Starting in November 2012, we began the program by going to one or two high schools a month. In the first full year, we successfully trained 3,500 graduating seniors. The 2014-15 school year started in September and by the completion of this year we will have gone to all seven public high schools and adding a private high school as well.

The program has no funding and the success of the program was supported by volunteers (15-25 per school event), borrowed equipment and donated items.

- Written by Greta McKinnon-Hall

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