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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! 

 

AmandaJean Beaulieu Minneapolis, MN

They say we only have one heart. Some of us are lucky enough to know someone who got a second heart. My family has been supporting the American Heart Association since 1994 when my cousin Emma became the first infant in MN to receive a heart transplant. Sadly she passed at the age of three. Her short life strengthened our desire to support the AHA. As a little girl I participated in Jump rope for heart and took CPR classes with my Girl Scout troop.

In February 2002 my world was turned upside down, my Father went into congestive heart failure. His heart was just fluttering. We almost lost him. I can’t imagine life without my Daddy and I am thankful to his care team.  If there is no research lives are lost, research saves lives. Research gives men the chance to hold their granddaughters. He is a survivor and because of him I advocate for a better day. A day where research is no longer needed because we have a cure.

In on brief moment I became the very survivor I was advocating for. I had a stroke when I was 26 years old, 5 days before my 27th birthday. If it wasn’t for my care team I would have had a funeral instead of a birthday party. Because of them I am a live and I want to give everyone the chance to blow out one more candle. Heart disease and stroke are killing more woman than any other disease. Many don’t even know they are sick until it’s too late. In 2009 I got the best birthday present and that was life.

Life will never be the same. I had nowhere to turn for information after I had my stroke. All the websites were for the elderly and not a young 26 year old professional. I needed information; I needed to put a “why” before the word stroke and to figure out how to live the healthiest life possible. The AHA’s website was a wealth of knowledge and tips for heart healthy living. The website became my guide and when I was strong enough I wanted to give back to the organization that supported me. I wanted to share my story and help those in my community be heart healthy.

I participated in my first MN Heart on the Hill day in 2011 and shared my story with state legislators and representatives. Each person I met that day was surprise to find out that I was a survivor, not only was I a survivor, I was a stroke survivor. Most people think of the elderly when they hear the words “stroke survivor” I am creating a new image and changing the face of stroke. Sharing my story allows me to raise awareness for the need to implement the Stroke Systems of Care and educate my community on the warning signs of stroke. It allows me to advocate for legislation that will create heart healthy communities and save lives.

Mostly I advocate for a little girl who never got the chance to grow up. Emma graced this earth for three beautiful years and because of her short life, lives are being saved. Someone so great deserves to have her legacy shared and shouted from the roof tops. I owe my surviving heart to that little girl and will continue to fight for the tomorrows she never got to see.

 

Paul Kearns, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate

Over twenty five years ago, I was working as a boat captain on the Long Island Sound. It was a beautiful summer day around dusk when someone collapsed near me on the dock I was operating. This man was turning blue, and after being frozen with fear I did the only thing I knew to do which was to run for help. After that, I never wanted to be controlled by indecision again and decided to take control by getting involved in my local emergency medical services service. It started me down a path that I still carry forward.

I am fortunate to be involved with such a great group of people from North Carolina. Their dedication, passion, and endless effort lead the way for our American Heart Association (AHA) Advocacy team. After dedicating my adult life to the service of others through medicine, advocacy allows me to carry this vision forward.

My days as a volunteer emergency medical technician and my hunger to learn more while giving back led me to a career decision to continue in EMS. After graduating with a degree in history, I worked in an emergency room while becoming a paramedic for the City of New York. For all that I tried, many of my efforts still could not make a dent on the disease and suffering that was around me.

During this time, I pursued many other areas of medicine. I spent years involved in research for a federal grant, Emergency Medical Services for Children, to advance safe environments and emergency medical care for children across the United States. Eventually I worked for a large health system on Long Island in the capacities of Performance Improvement, Education, and Research. After serving in this environment, my family decided to move to North Carolina in 2005.

In 2007, I had the great fortune to renew my involvement with the AHA by teaching Emergency Cardiovascular Care programs and promote public access defibrillation (AED) and CPR education. In 2008, I started with the Mid-Atlantic AHA Community Strategies committee. The direction of this committee was to assist and direct best practices in heart and stroke health in North Carolina.

During this time I was leading an effort to assist in AEDs in Schools, trying to ensure that every school had an AED and could use them in an emergency. I was told that there was an AHA staffer who was pursuing a similar initiative. That was my introduction to Betsy Vetter and the team of advocates. Where my initiatives had stalled, the advocates flourished. Betsy, without hesitation, invited me to join the Advocacy locomotive.

Since coming on board in 2008, so much has been accomplished: ensuring all high schools have AEDs, updating the North Carolina Good Samaritan Laws, promoting Heartsaver Heroes, CPR as a high school graduation requirement, AEDs and Emergency Plans in state buildings, and most recently our success in Newborn Pulse Oximetry testing. For all the accomplishments, so much more work is to be done. I look forward to all that we can accomplish.

With North Carolina as my family’s long term home, I want to do everything I can to encourage and assist our state to decrease preventable disease and increase the health of its citizens. With the AHA Advocacy team at my side, I have witnessed mountains moved.

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