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On January 14, 2009, Rich got up bright and early as usual -  5:00 a.m.  When he left for work, he felt something was off and thought perhaps it was dehydration. Soon after he had a headache. Then tired. He went to a walk-in clinic and was told it was a migraine.  That night, he began thrashing around. Just 48, Rich was having a stroke.

The  right side of his body was paralyzed.  His mouth was drooping.  At the hospital, doctors were not sure Rich would survive. Now, this stroke hero is sharing his story with others and advocating for the best care for stroke patients.  Recently, Rich traveled to Albany for the first ever Stroke Awareness Advocacy Day at the Capitol.

Rich knows why immediate care is critical for stroke patients - he had to fight to learn how to walk, how to dress himself and how to speak again.  His voice is back - and he's using it to help others.  Rich shared his story with media and lawmakers.  And he urged lawmakers to support legislation that will establish three tiers of stroke centers in New York because all stroke victims deserve the best care.

Now that's a hero! 

Juddson Rupp, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate

I didn’t remember anything from my week in the hospital, but when a friend brought in a copy of the six o’clock news from October 27, 2000 I quickly realized that either that was a slow news day or that I was one lucky miracle survivor with an important story to share.

"Being at the right place at the right time and near the right equipment may have been a real life saver for a man working out at the YMCA,” the TV anchor began. Her co-anchor added, "Judd Rupp, not your typical heart attack victim - he's in his 30's and was at the gym.  Thanks to some people who knew exactly what to do, he's alive today."

Reporter Steve Litz brought the story to a close saying: "Two important notes to add- It was difficult identifying Judd Rupp as he was not wearing any kind of I.D.  Everything worked in Rupp's favor at the YMCA because so many know CPR there.  Another note, Juddson Rupp is an employee here at WSOC-TV.  We all wish him well in his recovery."

After getting choked up watching news clips like the one above a decade ago, I knew that internally and externally my life had changed.  I could no longer be a just a private citizen.   I had to share my story publicly for several reasons.  I now strongly believe that being and advocate and sharing your story is an important duty as a survivor.

The American Heart Association approached me to ask if they could use my story for the upcoming Heart Ball.  The Marketing Director told me that sharing my story could help save hundreds, if not thousands of lives through the years.  Then the publicity became a 'no-brainer' for me.  Why wouldn't I help save others by informing people to learn CPR or by encouraging them to purchase AED's and stop cardiovascular disease with added research and funding?

After the initial Heart Ball work in 2001, I was asked to be in a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that ran on Charlotte TV stations and throughout the Carolinas in a commercial also featuring my wife and two children urging people to 'Learn CPR...it can save lives!'  I became the poster boy for the American Heart Association, as my wife had joked.  She also knew that I was honored to do this and practically anything to help AHA grow its cause...and be the cure.

My volunteer time and work became even more empowering after meeting Betsy Vetter in 2004.  She asked me to join You’re the Cure, and become an advocate for AHA.  My initial role had me traveling to Washington, DC and visiting with Federal Legislators on Capitol Hill.  I am proud to say that I have not missed an AHA Federal Lobby Day since.

Since then I have held multiple roles including communications/media chair for the NC AHA Advocacy Coordinating Committee, a member of the AHA Charlotte Mission Committee, and co-chair of the Smoke-free Mecklenburg Advocacy Committee. I have also been active with Emergency Cardiovascular Care and the Heart Ball, and attended numerous state lobby days at the General Assembly in Raleigh where I share my personal experience with state lawmakers to help them better understand the importance of supporting strong public health policies.

Speaking with countless legislators and their staff to put a face on heart disease, and fight for so many who are not with us anymore is the most empowering reason I do this.  

*On December 14, 2013 Juddson was the recipient of the 2013 Dr. Robert Blackburn Award for Advocacy Excellence which honored all of his advocacy work at the American Heart Association.

Emilie Singh, Virginia-District of Columbia

"When Chloe Saved Gracie’s Life"

It was a busy Sunday in 2013 and no one realized my 8 year old daughter Gracie wasn’t feeling well.  She woke up late and asked to take a bath but we told her we wanted to go to Costco first.  We went out to Costco and ran a few other errands.  June in Arizona …it was a hot day. 

When we got home Gracie again asked if she could take a bath. She’s old enough to take baths on her own, and she got it started by herself.  I was upstairs while she was in the tub for a bit, but then went downstairs to change the laundry, and I would occasionally yell “Grace are you ok?” and she would answer “yes”.  My other daughter Chloe (age 11 at the time) was in her room next to the upstairs bathroom watching a show. 

On my way back upstairs with the laundry I again yelled “Grace are you ok?”  But this time she didn’t answer.  I just had a weird feeling, I dropped the laundry, raced into the bathroom and found Gracie blue under the water not breathing.

I started screaming at the top of my lungs “Call 911, call 911!”  As I grabbed Gracie and pulled her out of the tub and put her on the floor, Chloe pushed past me and started performing CPR, pushing on her chest hard with both hands. 

By the time my husband got upstairs with the phone and 911 on the line, Gracie was coughing and spitting up water.  In a few minutes we had her on her bed, covered with a towel and there were 10 firemen and police men in her room.  She was disoriented but thank God she was breathing. 

Gracie lost consciousness so she really doesn’t remember what happened, but she has heard us talk about it.  We just call it “When Chloe Saved Gracie’s Life.”  It seems like the best way to describe the event. 

It turned out that it had been a febrile seizure because, unknown to us, she was already sick and then went into a hot bath. It just made her fever go up higher.  Gracie spent 3 days in the hospital, and Chloe didn’t want to leave her side.  

I can’t even express how grateful I am that Chloe learned CPR in her classroom.  I wish every kid would…you just never know when it could turn them into someone else’s hero.  Chloe was certainly Gracie’s.

See the family retell the gripping story here

 

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.

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