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Share Your Story: Brian Donaldson and his friend Price

Brian Donaldson and his friend Price Missouri

As I close my eyes every night, I am thankful that my family had a great day, filled with health and happiness.

In January of this year my 51 year old business partner, mentor and friend, Price, had a massive stroke. He was in much better health than most of us and even ran the Boston Marathon last year.

Price was rushed to the hospital on a Sunday morning and because there was no way to know when his stroke occurred the "wonder drug" was not an available option. He would have to rely on his own body to deal with the stroke. Price's family and friends were given the news some days later that he was paralyzed on the left side and would likely not walk again.

Fast forward 9 months, Price is walking with a cane and last week passed his driver's test and has some of his freedoms back. The doctors believe that his strong recovery is due to his lifelong focus on his own health. I am proud to be a part of the Executive Leadership Team for the 2016 Metro St. Louis Heart Walk and champion Edward Jones' Heart Walk team this year. See more about the upcoming St. Louis Heart Walk.

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Advocate Highlight - Craig Miller

My adventure with cardiac disease is not one that everyone reading this will experience. It's 2016 and looking back I truly feel like a survivor. I have had seven stents, one robotic bypass and suffered a Transient ischemic attack (TIA). 

I have had eleven angioplasties’ to either place stents or look at the status of my cardiovascular disease. In 2011, after suffering yet another event I was approached by UC Davis Medical Center to have a new robotic surgery procedure that is a less invasive bypass surgery. After the ten hour surgery was completed I was told that it took so long because there was a lot of scar tissue that made it difficult. Within six weeks I was ready to return to work as Operations Manager for an armored transport company in the Bay Area. My hours were long and the responsibilities and dangers were stressful. In July of 2011 I collapsed at work and they discovered the bypass had failed.  I was told that doctors placed a stent in the artery however it was just a matter of time before it would also be rejected by my body. I was told not to return to work and that I needed to avoid stress and over exertion all together.

Depression set in after being unable to work. I was given social security disability that barely covered the basic necessities. My family filed for bankruptcy and I knew our life needed to change.  My daughter and her family lived in Meridian, Idaho and my wife Sally and I decided that Meridian is where we wanted to go. We sold everything we could to new start and in December of 2011 we moved.          

Our move meant I needed to find a new cardiologist. After experiencing several cardiologists I was getting pretty good at knowing who fit me well. I found Dr. Bass at St. Luke’s and the first thing he suggested was to do an angioplasty to see what was going on so he could properly help me.  The angioplasty confirmed what the previous cardiologist had diagnosed, I had congestive heart failure. 

Dr. Bass felt that cardiac rehabilitation may help me and he was right.  The program of personalized exercise along with diet and heart education was making a difference, however my depression was not improving. Counseling was suggested and with the support from all of the wonderful health professionals I started feeling more positive. I realized that I had a choice; I could continue down my path of feeling sorry for myself or pick myself up and start over. I joined Mended Hearts Chapter 380 and found that by helping others I also helped me. 

In 2013, I was going to cardiac rehabilitation three days a week.  One morning as I got ready to go I felt out of sorts and by the time I got to “rehab” I was a little disoriented and very weak. As I walked into “rehab” I was approached by Amber an educator and RN. Amber saw that something was wrong and after evaluating me called for an ambulance because she recognized I was having a stroke. Amber saved my life because of her quick and knowledgeable reaction!

So here I am in 2016, the President of Mended Hearts. I have without a doubt the best people to work with, and can never thank my doctors, nurses, health professionals, family and friends enough.

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Advocate Highlight - Myra Wilson

On November 3, 2014, I was in nursing school, working as a student nurse at the VA hospital.  My first sign something was not quite right was when I was walking through the nursing station and both of my eyes went blurry.  I could still see color but I couldn’t see letters.  It was blurry for ~30 seconds before clearing up again. 

I was going to lunch and went to give a report to another nurse.  The nurse noticed while I was speaking that I slurred my speech.  I didn’t notice my speech was slurred at all.  It was at that time that I experienced a sudden sharp pain on the right side of my head.  The nurse then expressed concern that I was having a stroke and called a code.  I was told to sit in the nearby chair.

Within minutes a team of people arrived and evaluated me.  Paralysis started to consume my left side, my dominant side.  I had left-sided facial droop and I couldn’t move my left arm or leg.  They had to carry me to the stretcher.

I was taken to the ER where I underwent a CT scan to determine if it was hemorrhagic.  Since it was not, they gave me TPA to help dissolve the clot.

I was transferred to Harborview Medical Center where I underwent an angiogram and a thrombectomy in the cath lab.  The angiogram showed a blood clot in a large artery in the right side of my brain.  The thrombectomy entailed going through my femoral artery, and into my brain to remove the clot.

I spent a week in ICU followed by two weeks in rehab.  At 41 years old, I had to relearn how to walk, talk, and swallow.

Contrary to the more common causes of stroke, i.e. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, etc., my situation was quite different. After more than 12 weeks of testing, the doctors were finally able to pinpoint the cause as a rare autoimmune disorder called antiphospholipid syndrome.

As a nursing student, I’ve taken care of many patients who were stroke survivors.  I never thought it would happen to me. 

I continue to gain strength in my leg and arm.  I have returned to work though I am unable to do my work as an ortho tech, I am able to contribute to the ortho team on projects that are not physically demanding.

The key message I want people to take away from my story is stroke doesn’t discriminate.  Stroke effects people of all ages, ethnicities, professions, economical status, etc.  Know the signs and get help immediately. Act F.A.S.T.

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Share Your Story: Chase Maltbie

Chase Maltbie Kansas

Lansing Elementary School students are jumping for joy over their big donation to the Kansas City American Heart Association. Students raised $13,000 this year thanks to their hard work and the inspiring stories of their gym teacher, Lee Matzeder, and a 6-year-old student, Chase Maltbie.

Matzeder had a heart attack on November 3 at the Royals victory parade. "It felt like someone was sitting on my chest; I could hardly breathe," said Matzeder. His wife, Tina, rushed him to the emergency room at the University of Kansas Hospital, where doctors said he needed triple bypass surgery.

Two months after surgery, Matzeder returned to teach at Lansing Elementary. He was there when students participated in this year's Jump Rope for Heart event benefiting the American Heart Association. First Grader Chase Maltbie had the most donations - a whopping $1,800 in pledges. Chase's dad, Lt. Col. Richard Maltbie, died of a heart attack last October. He was only 39 years old. Chase said he wanted to jump to honor his dad and make a difference.  "To help people with sick hearts so I can donate money to other doctors to help other doctors learn how to take care of sick hearts," said Chase.

The 6-year-old also had advice for other children dealing with a parent's death.  "It's hard to have it; but I hope you can get through it," Chase explained.  Matzeder knows how Chase feels because the gym teacher was also six years old when his father died of a heart attack. Now Matzeder tells everyone he knows to get their heart checked at least once a year.  "I just never thought it would happen to me," said Matzeder. 

Many of the students who participated in the Jump Rope Event said they were jumping to honor their teacher. See the full story here.

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Share Your Story: Katelyn Larson

Katelyn Larson Iowa

Katelyn Larson was born a beautiful and healthy baby but suddenly at 3 months old, she became very sick. That night she would not eat, started choking, her lips turned blue and she became lethargic.

Her parents raced her to the closest ER in Ida Grove, IA where an X-Ray showed an enlargement in her heart. Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha was contacted and they sent their own ambulance to transport her to Omaha. More tests were run and her breathing and condition rapidly grew worse. She was rushed into the PICU and was hooked up to life support, and unfortunately she stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated.

That morning her parents were told that her left heart chamber was enlarged to twice its normal size and that she would most likely need a heart transplant! She was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, caused by a genetic marker and a virus that went to her heart. She was placed on the heart transplant list and waited 28 days for her new gift of a healthy heart. She was released to go home and reunite with her two older brothers after being away for almost 3 months.

Today, Katelyn has passed all of her growth markers and is an active and vibrant 2 year old. She is now only on 3 medications, down from 15. She is an overcomer and reminds us all of how precious life is. 

Katelyn is now helping spread the word about congenital heart defects, which occur at the rate of 1 in every 100 babies. She will be the 2016 Ambassador at the Sioux City Heart Walk which is being held on May 14th!

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Share your Story: Brad and Kristi Wellendorf Family

Brad and Kristi Wellendorf Family Midwest Affiliate

It was a Wednesday night. We met at our 8th grade son’s baseball game.  Brad had to help with field prep, but he had a difficult time raking.  He was not able to catch his breath and was really thirsty.  Unfortunately, he didn’t share this information with anyone and it wasn’t the first time he felt this way. 

In the middle of the night he got up to go to the bathroom, and woke me up thankfully.  The next sound I heard was a choking and gasping sound coming from my husband.  When I turned the lights on his arms were crossed in front of his chest, his thumbs between his fingers, eyes fixated and he was making that awful sound.  Our 12 year old daughter first came into the room, then went out to the living room to get the phone.  We called 911. After telling the dispatcher our name, address and what was going on, Brad went limp.  I handed the phone to Lindsey for the remainder of the time.  I got him on the floor and started CPR.  The dispatcher on the phone was instructing me on what to do, but my training from 30 years prior kicked in and I knew exactly where to place my hands and how to deliver the compressions.  She and Lindsey had to do the counting out loud because I felt like I was hyperventilating.  I sang “Staying Alive” in my head to keep going fast enough.  This was different from my initial training, but I had seen the PSA video snippets on “Good Morning America” and other news shows in the months prior. 

I’m not sure how long into the CPR compressions it was before our son woke up and came into the room wondering what we were doing at 4 o’clock in the morning!  He immediately saw the dire circumstances we were in and switched spots with me.  We continued to ‘tag team’ with the compressions. During the times when he was working on his father, I was able to quickly get dressed, put the dog into another room, open the front door and turn on all the lights for the paramedicss to find us and come in.  I would later tell people we were like a well-oiled machine the way the three of us worked together, doing what needed to be done, and keeping our wits about us all while the man that we loved lay on the bedroom floor dying. 

From the time the ambulance was dispatched to arriving at Brad’s side, 14 minutes had passed.  It felt like it was a minimum of 30-minutes plus to us.    The report showed that they had to shock him two times and there were three attempts to intubate him. By this time 26 minutes had passed. Finally 33 minutes after the ambulance was dispatched he had a pulse, blood pressure and oxygen readings.  They transported him to the hospital.   I was taken by a police officer to the hospital and the kids stayed with a family friend who came over as soon as I called. 

Brad was taken to the cath lab and a stent was placed to open his completely blocked LAD.  This was all completed within 90 minutes from dispatch time.  He was also placed on the hypothermia protocol in the ER and was kept cool for almost 24 hours.  Brad was attached to a ventilator, the cooling unit, a heart balloon pump, blood circulating cuffs on his legs, and four trees full of medication when I saw him next in ICU.   A few hours later he was back in surgery to repair a femoral artery tear.   Every doctor and nurse who heard about my son and I doing CPR on Brad told us how we saved his life or thanked us for doing what we did so that they were able to do what they did for him, because without us, they would not have had him as a patient.  

Brad remained in a coma in the ICU unit. His brain was in near complete seizure activity. It did not look like he was going to come out of the coma, and end of life and organ/tissue donation was being discussed. 

Then 252 hours - 11 days - after the cardiac arrest he moved his leg.  It was 384 hours after the arrest he started talking.  He did not know who we were, he just knew we were important to him.   It took another couple days to call me by name and another to say our son’s full name, and several more days to realize who our daughter was.  During this time prior to going into the rehab hospital here, he had no pain sensation at all.  He couldn’t feel when they took his blood, tested or touched his feet or even when his hand was caught between the bed rail and the table.  This part of his brain hadn’t found it’s new pathway yet.   

His recovery really accelerated after what he called his ‘superman nap’ on his second day in rehab, the 23rd day after his cardiac arrest.  He described it that he could ‘see’ the synopsis and neurons reconnecting.  This is the same man who couldn’t say the months of the year or days of the week yet without help or extreme delay, or remember what number he was on long enough to continue to count.   He was able to relearn to walk and his balance improved to be independent. His brain-processing  improved through therapy enough to be able to come home after 13 days in rehab and 35 days from the cardiac arrest.  He continued with out-patient therapy for many months and went back to work on a very limited basis two years later.  

We are so fortunate that we were at home with Brad when his attack happened and were able to experience a true miracle.  

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Advocate Spotlight: Rosemary Jaffe

What is your why?

Being a survivor also means learning how to survive by being your own advocate and advocating for healthcare to help others.

What brought you to be an advocate for the American Heart Association?

After my bypass surgery, I couldn't get past the feeling that I survived for a reason. Advocacy gave me something to fight for.

What issues or policies are you most passionate about and why?

Good health insurance for everyone and more funding for research. I'm very passionate about finding better ways to treat and cure diseases that effect the health of our youth and to teach kids good habits so that they have a future free of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

What is your favorite advocacy memory or experience so far and what made it great?

Being an active member of the Illinois Advocacy Committee has been a wonderful experience. I enjoy our in-person meetings and discussions with people of all different backgrounds from all over the state. It is hard not to leave an Illinois Advocacy Committee meeting not feeling inspired to do more.

What is your favorite way to be active?


What is your favorite fruit or vegetable?

Berries, green beans, cauliflower and carrots.

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#ProtectPE for our kids' hearts... and brains!

Kickball, crab soccer, dodgeball, jump rope – for most adults, all these activities bring back memories of fun times spent in PE. It was a great way to burn off steam and learn something about a new sport, all while absorbing the importance of staying physically fit. PE definitely contributes to teachers actually being able to do their job (and preserving their sanity in the process!) by giving kids a place to release all of their pent up energy, so that they can then buckle down and focus on their school work. Unfortunately, the next generation may grow up without those same memories and all the benefits that come with them.

Due to how common it has become for PE to be removed from our nation’s schools, Voices for Healthy Kids and SHAPE America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, just released an update to the Shape of the Nation report on the state of physical education and physical activity in the American education system. The report, which is designed to help advise physical education policies and practices, shows significant and sometimes striking differences in statewide policies regarding physical education programs in the schools.

For example, only Oregon and the District of Columbia meet the national recommendations for weekly time in physical education at both elementary and middle school levels, which is currently set at 150 minutes for elementary students and 225 minutes for secondary students. On the other hand, few states set any minimum amount of time that elementary, middle school/junior high and high school students must participate in physical education. Texas is among those states, requiring students to take physical education in grades K-8, but does not have a requirement for the number of minutes. For high school students the findings are particularly troubling, with only six states establishing minimum times that students must participate in physical education, even though the positive impact on their physical, mental, and emotional health is well-documented. Studies show that active children consistently outperform less active students academically in both the short and the long term. They also demonstrate better classroom behavior, greater ability to focus, and lower rates of absenteeism.

When you consider that 32% of the nation’s children and adolescents are at an unhealthy weight, and the majority are living sedentary lifestyles, you quickly realize that this issue should be a top priority for lawmakers. Creating and nurturing opportunities in schools for students to get the recommended amount of time in PE, while addressing the quality of instruction as well, is one of the most cost-effective approaches to combating this growing health crisis. That’s why Voices for Healthy Kids created the #ProtectPE campaign designed to unite parents, community leaders, and public health advocates around local and state-based efforts to strengthen physical education in the schools; advocates like LaShonda Cameron of Houston, TX, a Physical Education teacher who knows first-hand how important PE is to the health and future of Texas’s children.

For National Physical Education and Sports Week, LaShonda shares her perspective:

"Physical education is very important to the well-being of growing youth.  Inactive and unhealthy youth turn into inactive unhealthy adults, so this is not a generational issue.  Students need to be taught the benefits of having an active lifestyle versus a sedentary one if we hope to improve the chances of a healthy adult lifestyle. 

In my experience, students are very receptive to knowledge about their bodies, fun ways to stay active, and the benefits of a life with movement incorporated.  For this reason, I am puzzled as to why the thought of removing physical education from school is even a discussion when there are an abundance of studies that find significant benefits, both educationally and physically, for students.  I see this proven every day for myself. It brings me joy as I see the students in my classes realize that being physically active is not complicated, fun with innovation, beneficial educationally, and most importantly, rewarding.  Even better, with this insight, I have seen students positively influence their friends and families with the knowledge they have obtained. In this way, PE in schools has the potential to influence not just the students, but the community as a whole.

My students are making informed decisions about diet and exercise because of what physical education provides, something that no other subject does. The simple fact that it betters the chances of an active adult lifestyle should be reason enough to #ProtectPE because the next generation will be tomorrow's leaders.

Join me to #ProtectPE by informing your elected officials how important PE is for both our kids and our communities. Use this easy action alert to send your emails now. #Protect PE, it's a no-brainer!"

~LaShonda Cameron
Physical Education Teacher
Elsik 9th Grade Center
Alief Independent School District

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My Life is Why!

Meet AHA volunteer, Angie Chafos!

What brought you to be an advocate for the American Heart Association?

In 2010, I survived a heart attack. My left anterior descending artery was 100 percent blocked. When I experienced a very sharp pain from the front of my chest to my back, I realized this was critical, took two aspirin and rushed to the hospital. Time is muscle.

What issues or policies are you most passionate about and why?

Awareness and education about heart disease is valuable. Everyone should be knowledgeable about heart disease because more people die from heart disease than any other disease. Recognizing symptoms, screening to manage heart related numbers, eating better and exercising are essential elements to living a heart healthy lifestyle for optimum health and living LIFE! I have been a AHA Neighborhood Volunteer for many years to get the word out about research and heart health information.

What is your favorite advocacy memory or experience so far and what made it great?

Before my heart attack, I had never been on an exercise program. Through cardiac rehabilitation therapy, I learned how to use the treadmill and other exercise equipment as well as learning tai chi and yoga. My best friend is my pedometer which is always on my body enforcing my goal to reach 10,000 steps. Having professionals teaching me how to exercise and encouraging me to exercise to be heart healthy was a valuable life lesson.

What is your favorite way to be active?

Walking is the easiest form of exercise and requires no special equipment except for a good pair of walking shoes. I walk for causes and fundraising events with groups of people, thereby helping others with others while getting in my 10,000 steps.

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable?

Beets have always been my favorite vegetables, and oranges my favorite fruit.


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Capital Region NY Stroke Ambassador Kicks of American Stroke Month!

On May 5th, 2016 Stroke Ambassador Paula Symanski was joined by her New York Assemblymember Carrie Woerner as she rode her bicycle through the streets of Albany, NY -  arriving in front of the State Capitol to cheers of her friends and supporters!     May and June marks the height of the state legislative session and AHA is pushing for passage of legislation to improve stroke care in New York State.  More to come....

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