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Advocate Spotlight: Angie Jorgensen

Angie Jorgensen Nebraska

My wonderful husband, Jon and I together have 4 great children—Alexis, now 21; Garrett, 19; Josh, 15 and Justin 12.  Our daughter is working and planning for more school.   All 3 boys are currently playing football, and we are going to be cheering at lots of games this Fall!  We have a busy family life and feel enormously blessed.

In addition to being a wife and mother, I work full time as a Sales Director and I have instructed group fitness classes for over 25 years.  I’ve run 8 marathons.  I feel like I’ve taken great care of my health through the years, though I admit to embracing chocolate as the 5th food group :)

On December 7th, 2012, I woke up feeling awful.  I thought I had the flu, but soon I had a feeling of thunder and lightening going through my chest, and I was fighting to breathe.  My husband followed me into the bathroom where I had sank down on the floor and perhaps would have stayed.  Thankfully, my husband had cancelled a hunting trip at the last moment…the first of several divine moments to come.  Jon drove in the ditch around morning rush hour traffic in order to get me to Lakeside hospital.

Shortly after arriving at the hospital, my vitals proved something was terribly wrong.  My husband told me that before he knew it several doctors were caring for me, trying to determine the problem. After some time I coded twice, once for approximately 15 minutes before being revived with CPR.  I had gone into cardiac arrest, and at that point I had about 5% heart life, and was not expected to live.  My family was allowed to see me to say their good bye's before I was life flighted to Nebraska Medicine, in an effort to get me to higher care.  My daughter, Alexis, upon leaving the room, told my Mom not to worry because an angel told her I would be all right.  I was not expected to make the flight, but by the grace of God, I did.   

As soon as I arrived at UNMC, I was hooked up to ECMO (ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) and to another machine for kidney dialysis.  ECMO takes the place of the heart and lungs while they hopefully can recuperate, or as the bridge to a heart transplant or implementation of a device that helps the heart function.  My family was told that I could be on the ECMO machine for 2-3 weeks.  Throughout the week, the doctors searched for heart viruses, believing that was the problem.   They were evaluating for a potential heart transplant.  My organs failed, and I had at least one stroke.  

On Dec. 12th, 2012, ( yes 12-12-12!!!) my heart came back fully functional.  A ct scan of my heart and several bouts with very high blood pressure led the Doctors to see a tumor on my adrenal gland.  The tumor was feeding on the adrenal gland, basically spiking my adrenaline to 500 times the normal level a person should have, which is what threw me into cardiac arrest.  Pheochromocytoma was the medical diagnosis, which is a rare tumor of the adrenal gland.  

I woke up on December 14th, and was quite overwhelmed to hear of the events that had transpired the previous week.  I started out as an invalid, with broken ribs and a cracked sternum from the CPR.  But I was alive and right away I knew that was a miracle.  I remember my first thought was being so thankful that I was alive to go to my daughter’s upcoming graduation.  

I had pneumonia, and a blood infection.  I had another instance of blood pressure in the 270 range while awake and nearly coded again.  Each day presented challenges, but each day had a victory as well. Each day I chose to focus on the good things, rather than the negative.  

The pilots who had flown me to higher care, came to see my husband and me at NE Medicine.  They told us that they always followed up on patient flights, and had been watching for my name in the obituaries.  After they were not seeing my name there, they came to find out that I had survived and were elated to see us and tell us thank you for making their Christmas.  I told them the thank you, as I would not be here without them!

As I focused on the victories, each day got better and better.  One step turned into 5, then 10.  I regained use of my hands.  My progress surpassed the doctor's expectations.  They had told us to expect to be in the hospital at least a month.  My husband and I returned home on December 28th, 3 weeks to the day after everything had occurred.  I wore a defibrillator vest for a few months and went through cardiac rehab until I became strong enough to have surgery to have the tumor removed.  Thankfully, the tumor was benign.

I am back to my active life…. Wife, Mother, Christian, working in sales, instructing a couple of fitness classes a week, running, and cheering at lots of football and basketball games!  I have also had the privilege of being able to help out wonderful organizations like the American Heart Association.

I am forever grateful to my husband for first saving my life and for getting me to the hospital on Dec. 7th.  I am so thankful for my large medical team of Doctors, for my family, our Church, and for friends who helped support us with prayers, meals, and so much more. 

I am a blessed and grateful woman and I just want to express my abundant thanks!  My advice to pass on—

Your body is the first place that you live.  Honor it by taking care of YOU, because you can make a better difference by being healthy.   Be aware of the warning signs for heart attack and stroke.  Heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women.  The doctors told me that because my good state of health was a large reason I was able to survive such a traumatic health event….that and a miracle.  Live each day fabulously and embrace it for the beautiful gift that it is! 

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Meet our Volunteer of the Month: Silvia Gutierrez-Reghunath

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the American Heart Association.  We are constantly amazed by our volunteers' commitment to advocate for healthier lives and to help save lives through policy change.  We are pleased to spotlight Silvia Gutierrez-Raghunath as this month's volunteer extraordinaire. Her passion and enthusiasm shine bright! Read below to learn more about Silvia and her why: 

Name: Silvia Gutierrez-Raghunath

Occupation: Researcher II/Promotora de Salud

How long have you been volunteering with the American Heart Association?

8 years

Why do you advocate to build healthier lives and communities, free of heart disease and stroke?

Because I have a child and he is my motivation, and I want to see my grandchild living free of heart disease and stroke. Because my mother died of heart disease and my father had 4 heart attacks, because I care about my community.

What are your passions and your interests in life?

I'm passionate about making a difference and helping others. I lost my father and my mother and ever since then, I have spent time volunteering to educate others (family and community) about how we can prevent heart disease. I also love getting to know patients and survivors on a personal level. I put my heart, mind and soul into even in my smallest acts. This is my real passion!

What is your all-time favorite thing to do on your time off?

I love spending quality time with my 9 year-old-son Diego and my husband Ramesh

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Advocate Spotlight: Cindy Peterman

After 35 years of smoking, bouts with bronchitis and increasing prices, Cindy Peterman decided it was time to quit and she credits the recent price increase for tobacco products in Nevada with helping her.


“Last year on July 4th weekend when I went to buy cigarettes I realized with the increase I can’t do this anymore; I have rent to pay. I am so grateful for the increase. It led to me quitting for good,” said Cindy.

In addition to the tax increase, Cindy’s can-do attitude and positive outlook on life made it easier for her to quit. Prior to moving to Las Vegas to be near her son and grandkids, she owned both a restaurant and home in Texas. When the recent recession hit, Cindy lost the restaurant and then her home.


“After going through all that change, I thought I can make another change in my life,” she said. 

Upon deciding to quit, Cindy visited her doctor and received the patch (covered by Medicaid). While the patch has four cycles, Cindy only used it for the first cycle.


“I have not smoked or used the patch since,” she said.


Her son is overjoyed that she quit and she notes how important it is to be a good example for her grandkids. In her job at checkout at Walgreens, Cindy has discovered many of her customers are quitting since the tobacco tax increase. She shares her story to encourage them and now they have formed a small support group. Cindy also hopes by sharing her story with the AHA/ASA, she can inspire even more people to quit.


Most of all, Cindy is enjoying her new smoke-free life.


“At age 65, I enjoy having the time to start my life over,” she said.


Thank you, Cindy, for sharing this wonderful example of how smart, strong public health policy can positively affect the lives of individuals and communities. Keep up the good fight, Cindy!

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Katie Towle - Supporting Families and Pushing for Critical Heart Tests for Kids

Katie Towle knows there are two things that can help a child when they are born with a heart defect – a life-saving test that can help detect it, and the support of other families with children who also have heart defects.

Katie helped promote the need for mandatory pulse oximetry testing for newborns at our legislative reception this winter. She’s a big advocate because her son Jack did NOT receive this test when he was born.

Katie said then, “Had this simple, painless test been done upon birth, we may have been able to have his repair surgery months earlier and avoided so many hospital stays with over 30 nights cumulatively away from our older child, our home and our jobs. Due to the delay in his surgery, Jack’s growth was significantly delayed and his physical development fell drastically behind the national standards.”

Katie will be promoting that pulse oximetry be the standard screening adopted when the Vermont Health Department undertakes a rulemaking to require congenital heart defect screening this year.

She also just formed a cardiac kids’ support group of parents and kids with congenital heart defects. We all had a great time attending the Lake Monsters game together this summer! If you have a child with a congenital heart defect, let me know. We’d love to connect you with this wonderful group and we would also love your help in requiring this test for newborns in Vermont. My email is

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Erin E. Herring, CT

November 18, 1998 was the day Erin E. Herring started on her journey into the world of physicians, hospitals and fear; that was the day her son Gavin was born.  He was diagnosed with aortic stenosis and would have to have surgery before is two week birthday.  And so it began…

After a year and six different surgeries, she finally thought she could exhale…nothing could have been further from the truth.  Erin participated in her first AHA Fairfield County Heart Walk when Gavin was 3 years old.  The next year, Gavin participated as the Red Cap Ambassador for the walk and two years later, Gavin and his sisters, Hannah and Brennah traveled to Washington DC to lobby for increased funding for heart disease.  A year later, Erin and Gavin were back on Capitol Hill meeting with senators and legislators as a unified voice for increased funding.  Along the way she met with many survivors as well as those who had lost a loved ones to heart disease or stroke.  The stories were life changing.

Erin was very active as an advocate in Washington and Hartford, speaking at congressional and legislative hearings on passing the law which requires AED’s in places of business and schools.  After four years, the bill was finally passed and she and Gavin were at the signing to thank then Governor Rell personally for her support.  She is passionate about this mission and continues to advocate for CPR and AED training.  Erin was a trained member of the Emergency Management Team for the City of Norwalk and praises the City for recently providing AED’s not only at the schools, but at various other sites in the city making it a “Heart Safe Community”.

Just recently, Erin was told she had suffered a “mini-stroke” and her advocacy for raising awareness strengthened.  Her credo, so to speak, has always been “if it hadn’t been for funds raised in the past, my son might not have had a future…” and she still stands by that today.  Her mom is a survivor, her son, and now she, herself is grateful to be one as well.

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Advocate Spotlight: Rae O'Leary

Rae O'Leary South Dakota

Rae O'Leary is a advocate for public health and led the Canli Coalition to pass a tribal ordinance to protect the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe from the dangers of secondhand smoke by making all enclosed places smoke-free.  Rae also joined our state-wide advocacy committee to share her knowledge, expertise and experiences to benefit all communities in South Dakota.  We are pleased to introduce you to Rae O'Leary. 

As a public health advocate and research Nurse I believe in volunteering with organizations like the American Heart Association dedicated to reducing the cardiovascular health disparities our nation experiences. Working on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota, I encounter shocking data on the health disparities of American Indians, as well as real people suffering from and dying from cardiovascular disease.

It is important to me to be an advocate for health equity in the community I live in and at a national level. For the last 7 years, I have led the Canli Coalition that got a tribal ordinance passed to protect the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe from the dangers of secondhand smoke by making all enclosed public places smoke-free. My motivation for this work was initially personal, because I did not want my children growing up in a place where it was acceptable to smoke in the bank. However, over the years my reason for being a public health advocate expanded to a desire to establish a community where American Indian’s have an equal opportunity to be healthy as the rest of America.

Successfully passing the CRST Smoke-Free Air Ordinance would not have been possible without the resources, support and funding from national organizations like AHA. My next goal is to create and provide a model for tribal tobacco policy that our greater reaching partners can share with other tribes to have a larger impact on cardiovascular health of American’s. It is absolutely possible to create change independently, but it is easier and faster to establish partnerships with others who share a common goal.

For more information on The Canli Coalition and tribal tobacco policy follow us! or @CanliCoalition on Twitter, or contact Rae O’Leary, RN, RRT, AE-C. Missouri Breaks Industries Research, Inc., PO Box 1824, Eagle Butte, SD 57625., or call 605-964-3418

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Share Your Story - Jackie Blake

Jackie Blake Iowa

One word…TERRIFYING.  That is how Ross Blake describes the events on July 20, 2009.  He, along with his wife Jackie and their young daughter Madelyn, had just embarked on a road trip to see his sister in Eastern Iowa when Jackie started to complain that she could not see while driving.  After guiding Jackie to gently press the brakes while he steered the car onto the side of the road for her, Ross called 9-1-1. 

Jackie was transported to a local hospital via ambulance where her symptoms worsened.  She began vomiting and had difficulty speaking.   Doctors performed a CT scan that came back clear, so Jackie was diagnosed with a migraine and sent home to rest.  But shortly after leaving the hospital Ross saw that his wife’s eyes were pointing in two different directions.  One aimed at him, and one looking down to the center console in the car.  They headed back to the hospital where it was determined that Jackie needed to be transported to Des Moines for further evaluation.  They would soon discover that Jackie was having a stroke, and that she needed emergency surgery to dissolve the clot in her brain. 

"There is a 30% chance that your wife will survive surgery.  If she does, she will likely be in a nursing home."

As Ross heard those words and sent Jackie into surgery, he thought about the possibility of losing his wife and raising their daughter alone.  It was the worst feeling ever.

Thankfully, Jackie survived surgery, but it was still yet to be determined what kind of condition she would be in when she woke up.  At first, she couldn’t write or talk, so Jackie tried using sign language.  The nurses taught her how to suction the saliva out of her own mouth because she couldn’t swallow. 

Over the next two weeks Jackie spent 6 grueling hours in therapy at the hospital each day, learning to walk, learning to talk, remembering colors and fighting to get stronger so she could hold her daughter again.  The sight of his wife in that condition caused a variety of emotions for Ross…terror, sympathy, sadness.  But one day her sarcasm and sense of humor returned, and Ross knew she was going to be ok.

Upon being released from the hospital Jackie continued to slur her speech, she was easily irritated and things still felt a bit "cloudy", so she continued going to speech, physical and occupational therapy sessions for four months to get better.  Her mother and mother-in-law came to help take care of Madeline until Jackie was able to multitask and it was safe for her to be alone with her daughter.  She learned how to drive again and was able to return to work full-time that December. 

Today, at age 36, Jackie now has two beautiful daughters, Madeline and Clara, and she lives with a self-described "new normal".  The lingering effects of her stroke cause panic attacks and migraines, speech can still be difficult, she makes lists for everything so she doesn’t forget, and her emotions are heavily impacted by those around her.  But, more importantly, Jackie and Ross are determined to raise awareness that strokes can happen to anyone, at any age, and to help others recognize the risk factors and warning signs.  They are thankful to Jackie’s amazing medical team who brought her back, and for the incredible research and technology that are impacting the lives of stroke patients everywhere.

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Share Your Story - Javan Cruz

Javan Cruz Missouri

Just 5 percent is the chance of survival when a child suffers sudden cardiac arrest away from a hospital. Javan Cruz is among that small percentage.

Back in April, Javan suffered a total of seven sudden cardiac arrests while in his 7th grade classroom.

Thanks to quick action taken by his teacher and school nurse, he’s with us today. Javan credits his survival to the Pioneer Ridge Middle School staff, who performed CPR and used an AED.

Read More Here.

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Tatum Weishaupt, New York State

My name is Tatum Weishaupt and I joined the AHA in April 2016 as the Mission Lifeline Director of the Capital Region of New York State.  Before I tell you about myself, let me share a little bit about Mission Lifeline.  The American Heart Association developed Mission: Lifeline to transform heart attack patient outcomes by connecting healthcare providers, prehospital providers and community stakeholders in a proactive system of care that saves and improves lives—from symptom onset through cardiac rehabilitation.  I am excited to be applying my skills and expertise to this lifesaving effort in Upstate New York.

Throughout my education and career, I have focused on medicine and healthcare systems. I attended Union College, graduating with a major in Neuroscience and Minor in Public Health, and continued to pursue my interest in the sciences earning a Masters Degree in Neuroscience from Georgetown University and George Mason University.

My career prior to joining the AHA included varying aspects clinical trials management at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where I worked in various roles over a 6 year period. While I enjoyed oncology research, my transition to systems of care quality improvement at the American Heart Association has allowed me to combine my broad interesting in healthcare. As a Mission: Lifeline Director for the Capital Region, I work with local health care providers – including EMS agencies and hospitals – to ensure that the system of care for heart attacks can work in a coordinated way.

The systems of care work lead by the AHA is truly impactful in the community, and I am thrilled to join in these efforts. On May 16, 2016 I had the opportunity to join the AHA advocacy team at a Stroke Lobby Day, and learn about another aspect of our organization. The day spent at the New York State Capitol included meetings with Senators and Assembly members discussing a bill which would provide a three tiered stroke system of care. The goal is to ensure that all stroke victims receive the appropriate level of care, as rapidly as possible. This was truly an awe inspiring day, and lead to the bill passing the Senate 60-0 on June 9th!

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Share Your Story - Rick Worrel

Rick Worrel Kansas

It was a cool, spring morning in May when thousands gathered to support the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network for a 5K run through Theis Park.  "I wanted to beat my time, so I had been training on my own," Rick Worrel said.

The year before, Worrel had some heart issues but was well and ready to get back in the race. He was running alongside his 16-year-old daughter, Brooke Worrel, who ended up crossing the finish line a short distance ahead of her dad. But as she waited for him at the finish line, he never came.

"I turn, and there's a group forming, and I realized who it is," she said.  There, lying 25 feet from the finish line, was her dad who went down with a "widowmaker" heart attack.  Read More Here.

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