American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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What Motivates Me to Work at the AHA?

By: Kula Koenig, Government Relations Director, California 

Ivan is why. Simply put, stories like my friend Ivan’s motivates me to work at the AHA because I know that the work we do continues to save lives.

One of the most special people I know is my friend Ivan -- or Ivanator as I sometimes call him. Ivan and his girlfriend Gerri (my close friend and old college roommate) came to celebrate my 25th birthday.  We had a grand ole time, dancing, laughing and simply enjoying life.

They were planning to fly back the next day but as I was getting ready to take Ivan and Gerri to the airport, Ivan suffered a stroke. He was 25.

The stroke left him speechless and he could not move. I wondered how a healthy, 25 year old (he was vegetarian!) could suffer a stroke?

The doctors later found he had a previously undetected heart defect. After surgery, medication and lots of prayer, I am happy to share that Ivan recovered 100 percent!

The picture is 6 years later, of Ivan, Gerri (now his wife) and I (from right to left) at my cousin’s wedding. Thanks to breakthroughs in research and medicine and a strong will to recover, Ivan is back to enjoying life, riding his fancy scooter around Los Angeles, and quoting Carl Jung.

I am proud that the AHA has invested more than $57 million in research projects throughout the Western States Affiliate to fund life-saving research so our loved ones, like Ivan, can continue to be here with us. The AHA’s work touches all areas that contribute cardiovascular health ranging from improved systems of care with the Get With the Guidelines programs, advocating for heart healthy policies, to community based programs like Teaching Gardens and Simple Cooking with Heart.

Simply put, saving lives is what motivates me to work at the AHA. What motivates you?! Share your story with us here.

Outside of my Advocacy duties, I am excited to join more than 1 million walkers in over 290 Heart Walks across the nation to take a stand against heart disease and help save lives! All with the goal of raising funds for continued research and medication to benefit all those who have suffered from heart disease or stroke, the country's No. 1 and No. 5 killers! If you want to find your local Heart Walk, please visit

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Hands-Only CPR

Authored by Lisa Vittayarukskul, CSULA U.S.U. Board of Directors Chair

As you may know, California had a chance to create a new generation of lifesavers by passing legislation to teach Hands-Only CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to high school students as a component for graduation. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass this legislative session, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up the cause, and here’s why!

Each year, over 326,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States. Cardiac arrest – an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and disrupts the flow of blood to the brain, lungs and other organs – is a leading cause of death in the United States. When a person has a cardiac arrest, survival often depends on immediately receiving emergency cardiac care including effective bystander CPR and use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs). For every minute without CPR, survival from witnessed cardiac arrest decreases 7-10 percent.  The time between the initial 9-1-1 telephone call and the arrival of Emergency Medical Services personnel may be longer than five minutes; therefore, a cardiac arrest victim’s survival is likely dependent on a bystander emergency cardiac care.

Unfortunately, the truth is approximately 70% of Americans felt helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they do not know how to perform CPR or they are afraid of hurting the victim.

New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showcased data which reflected that the number of people with cardiac arrest who got bystander CPR and use of defibrillators by first response increased from around 14% in 2010 to 23.1% in 2013. In addition, prior research has shown that Hands-Only CPR –focusing solely on chest compressions–can prevent brain damage and double or triple survival rates. Another study followed patients with bystander-witnessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCAs) between 2005 and 2010 and found that the number of events had increased; with on-site public defibrillators, the bystander chest compression and bystander defibrillation had increased as well. Overall, bystanders who offer CPR to a person in need can improve their survival rates and reduce associated neurological issues, such as brain damage that can result from cardiac arrest.

According to the official journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation, provision of bystander CPR is known to be a critical determinant of survival from OHCAs. Affiliated studies have demonstrated survival rates much higher (from 47.6% to 53%) than the estimated overall average rate of survival from OHCA (7.9%), using a variety of strategies for early defibrillation in which AEDs were used by responders who were not healthcare professionals.

As stated in Circulation, the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation strongly recommended in 2003 that CPR training be incorporated into secondary school student’s curriculum with the rationale that over the long term, teaching students lifesaving skills of Hands-On CPR would annually put thousands of lifesavers in our communities, creating a generation of first responders.

So far, only 24 states have established policies to incorporate CPR training for high school graduation. With 4,495 high schools in California and only two districts mandating CPR training as a high school requirement, there thousands of students missing out on learning the lifesaving skills of Hands-On CPR!  We will continue to pursue local and state level legislation to incorporate emergency cardiac care skills, like Hands-On CPR, into our schools with the goal of creating a new generation of lifesavers.

If you don’t know Hands-On CPR, take two minutes to learn the basic skills here.


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Advocate Spotlight: Joshua Levy

Hey! My name is Joshua Levy and I am an advocacy intern for the American Heart Association--Greater Bay Area!

                Currently, I am a student attending the University of California, Berkeley pursuing a degree in Physics. But don’t let the degree fool you. Although I am interested in the sciences, my true passion lays in helping others and making sure that we all have the potential to live healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives.

                I chose to intern for the American Heart Association because of my background in sports, exercise, community outreach and my desire to work in the Public Health in the future. I have been a coach for the Special Olympics for five years and have been coaching youth basketball for one year. These programs, amongst a lot of self-education on these issues, helped me realize that many people did not have equal access to a healthy lifestyle. I witnessed first-hand that some of my players who came from lower socioeconomic backgrounds did not have as much access to physical activities as those who came from more affluent backgrounds. Although this concept was not new to me, it cemented my firm belief in the overarching value of public health and providing everyone with the opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle.

                Sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets, as well as neighborhood environmental factors are causing obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease to proliferate around the nation, especially in youth. As an athlete, this trend has greatly concerned me as my extensive experience in athletics has made me realize the benefits that one gets from staying active. Furthermore, I believe in the proverbial phrase: “better body, better mind”. Not only do I believe that physical activity results in a healthier body, my research at the AHA supports that there are many cognitive benefits that one can get from staying active.

                So that is exactly my aim this summer working for the American Heart Association: I want to help provide kids the opportunity for equal access to Physical Education. I am working on advocating to local school districts to provide regular and quality Physical Education for their elementary school students. I am digging into the heart of this issue to find out how we can work with school districts so that all kids have the opportunity to grow up learning healthy habits needed to sustain lifelong healthy lifestyles.

                Once again, I am very pleased to be working for the American Heart Association this summer. I hope that my time here will provide me with the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the community and the tools with which to influence change later on in life.

                Together, we can make a difference in the community. All it takes is one heart at a time!

Joshua Levy

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Visit Save Lives California Today!

The American Heart Association is proud to be a member of the Save Lives California coalition to empower Californians like you to help protect more of our state's residents from the harms of tobacco use.

Our coalition, which includes healthcare workers, doctors, dentists, health plans and prevention groups, has intensified our efforts to encourage the Governor and legislature to pass the California Tobacco Tax for Healthcare, Research & Prevention Act this year.  We have also raised $2 million toward the effort to qualify this measure for the November 2016 ballot if the legislature fails to act.

Until recently, California's tobacco tax rate was 33rd in the nation. But just last month, Nevada’s Governor Sandoval signed a new tobacco tax dropping California to 34th.

Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in California, killing more than 43,000 people each year. California taxpayers spend over $3 billion a year treating tobacco-related diseases of Medi-Cal patients. And the rates of nicotine use by youth are beginning to creep up.

By passing the California Tobacco Tax for Healthcare, Research & Prevention Act we can help offset the costs of treating tobacco-related diseases and increase funding for proven prevention programs that help reduce smoking among adults and youth alike. The consensus among researchers is that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about 4 percent among adults and about 7 percent among youth. 

But we need your help. 

Visit today. Let's save lives California!  You just might help save the life of someone you love.

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Test Your Knowledge of Sodium

Take our quiz to find out if you relationship with sodium and salt needs couples therapy!  Click here for the quiz.

You may be asking yourself: What’s the big deal about sodium? How does it affect my heart health?

Sodium is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated in the body by your kidneys, and it helps control your body’s fluid balance. It also helps send nerve impulses and affects muscle function.

When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total volume of blood inside. With more blood flowing through, blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of gunky plaque that can block blood flow. The added pressure also tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body.

Here’s the scoop on high blood pressure, also known as the “silent killer” because its symptoms are not always obvious:

  • It’s one of the major risk factors for heart disease, the No. 1 killer worldwide.
  • It’s the leading risk factor of women’s deaths in the U.S., and the second leading risk factor for death for men.
  • One-third of American adults have high blood pressure. And 90 percent of American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes.
  • More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic black adults have high blood pressure. Not only is high blood pressure more prevalent in blacks than whites, but it also develops earlier in life.

Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, eating less sodium can help blunt the rise in blood pressure that occurs with age, and reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even headaches. The extra water in your body can also lead to bloating and weight gain. No wonder the American Heart Association wants you to change your relationship with salt!

Kids aren’t immune to the heartbreak of too much sodium either. Nearly 80 percent of 1-3 year olds and more than 90 percent of 4-18 year-olds in the U.S. get too much sodium, and this can start increasing their risk of high blood pressure when they are as young as 1 year old. Kids who have high-sodium diets are about 40 percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure than kids with lower-sodium diets. This puts them at higher risk for heart disease when they get older.

- See more at:

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Heart Saver Spotlight: Skylar Berry

Every year there are almost 424,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the United States, and of this figure an estimated 10,200 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen to children.  Sadly, only 10% of victims who suffer a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting survive, largely in part because many victims do not receive timely CPR or AED application. 

Do you know CPR? If not, please take two minutes to learn the basics of Hands-Only CPR.

Skylar Berry can attest to the importance of knowing CPR.  In the summer, Skylar and her friends were at a birthday party and one of the attendees was found floating at the bottom of the pool, seemingly lifeless.  Thankfully, Skylar recognized that her classmate was not joking and not breathing and helped pull him from the pool. She checked his pulse, and then realized CPR might be the last resort to reviving her classmate.  Because of her immediate actions, her classmate survived and was back to life as normal within a few days. 

Thankfully Skylar learned CPR techniques in Fire Camp hosted by the Sacramento Metro Fire Department a few weeks prior to the incident.  “I am so glad I learned CPR because it helped save my friend’s life,” said Berry. “It was scary but I was calm and remembered the training I received. I just shouted to the adults to Call 9-1-1 and immediately started doing CPR after we pulled him from the pool.”

Unfortunately, 70% of Americans feel helpless to act during an emergency cardiac situations and only 32% of cardiac arrest victims receive bystander CPR, which largely attributes to low survival rates.

To view the full story, please visit here.

Studies show that teaching students lifesaving skills of CPR techniques in school will empower our youth and put thousands of lifesavers in our community.  Keeping this in mind, Skylar now teaches groups of students at her elementary school Hands-only CPR because she knows that emergency situations can happen at any time and she wants to do her part to put more lifesavers on the streets of her community.

Thank you Skylar for being a Heart Saver and for going above the call of duty to empower your classmates to learn Hands-Only CPR!

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Summer Health Tips

The arrival of summer means days at the pool, family barbeques, picnics, sports and other outdoor activities. Below are a few tips that you can use this summer to keep your whole family happy and healthy.



Staying active in the summer months

  • Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate! Drink plenty of water before, during and even after physical activity.
  • Protect your family from the sun.
  • Try to avoid intense physical activity during the hottest parts of the day (between noon to 3pm).
  • Dress for the heat.
  • Head indoors when the heat becomes unbearable. There are plenty of indoor activities that can keep you active on the hottest days.

Heart-Healthy Cookout Ideas

  • Go fish!
  • Make a better burger by purchasing leaner meat and adding delicious veggies.
  • Replace your traditional greasy fries with some heart healthy baked fries.
  • Veggie kabobs are a fun and healthy addition to your family barbeque.
  • Try grilled corn on the cob.

Healthy Road Trip

  • Make “rest breaks” active.
  • Pack healthy snacks to avoid the unhealthy foods at rest stops along your way.
  • Pack to play to continue your regular physical activity.
  • Reach for water instead of being tempted by sugary drinks.

Summer Snack Ideas

  • Homemade freezer fruit pops are an easy and fun treat for the whole family.
  • Keep your veggies cool and crisp during the summer months and they becoming a refreshing treat.
  • Fruit smoothies area a healthy way to cool yourself down on a hot summer day.
  • Mix up your own trail mix to take on all of your summer adventures.
  • Just slice and serve all the delicious fruits that are in season during the summer months.


Read more about these tips and other getting healthy tips over at 

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Lobby Day MVPs in the Spotlight

There were SO many amazing stories surrounding this year’s Hill Day that it was hard to narrow down our annual lobby day award winners. Not a bad problem to have! Please join us in congratulating these You’re the Cure MVPs, and then learn more about their stories in this video.


  • Science Advocate of the year – Dr. David Yu-Yiao Huang: Dr. Huang has been involved with AHA advocacy since 2003. From submitting expert written testimony and attending in-district meetings, to speaking before lawmakers, his passion for policy and his belief in the positive change policy can achieve has contributed significantly to big wins in North Carolina.
  • Volunteer Advocate of the Year – Theresa Conejo: Theresa has been one of the key proponents of Pennsylvania’s comprehensive smoke-free law. Last year, she signed a smoke-free op-ed which was picked up by major news outlets across the state. She also aggressively advocated for the proposed Clean Indoor Law. In addition, she recruits new You’re the Cure advocates at every opportunity. In fact, just recently, she signed up an additional 35 volunteers to join her in Pennsylvania’s smoke-free fight.
  • Survivor Advocate of the Year – Jim Bischoff: Jim’s own struggle with heart disease, as well as his experience with his son-in-law’s stroke, gives him a unique perspective to share during state and federal lobby days and meetings with lawmakers. His family history inspired him to provide leadership on stroke systems of care legislation. He also dedicates his time to tobacco issues, and attends in-district meetings with his lawmaker to discuss both of these important issues.
  • Youth Advocate of the Year – Cassidy Collins: Cassidy uses her story as a congenital heart survivor to illustrate the importance of AHA’s policy issues. At the age of 16, her resume is already quite impressive – she’s met with U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin to advocate for tobacco control funding; she has been a top fundraiser for the Roanoke Heart Walk for two years; and she has applied to work as a youth advocate for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Check out a video highlighting our award winners below.

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How to Keep the Winning Game Going

You're the Cure on the Hill isn’t the only opportunity to connect with members of Congress! As their constituents, you have the power and the RIGHT to tell them at any time to step up to the plate on the heart and stroke issues you care about most.

Here are some tips for getting your lawmaker off the bench and into the game:


  • Follow them on social media and send them messages on issues you care about.
  • Sign up for their e-newsletters on their websites. This is a great way to learn about events where you can meet the lawmakers in person and stay informed.
  • Work with your local AHA advocacy staff to schedule an in-district meeting. Members of Congress come home throughout the year on recess breaks, so they use this time to meet with constituents back in the district. Take advantage of their time at home and schedule a meeting to discuss the heart and stroke issues that matter to you and your family.
  • Most importantly, take action year round. Watch your inbox for calls to action from You’re the Cure and continue engaging your lawmaker through emails, phone calls and tagging them in your social media posts.

We had a real impact this week, but we need to keep the momentum going. Let's keep reminding our members of Congress that they need to step up for heart health all year round!

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May is American Stroke Month

Anyone can have a stroke and everyone should be ready.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke and every 4 minutes, someone dies from a stroke. That is why The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is inviting all Americans to become Stroke Heroes by learning and sharing the warning signs of stroke, F.A.ST. (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9-1-1).

Recognizing and responding to a stroke emergency immediately can lead to quick stroke treatment and may even save a life. Be ready!

Here is how you can participate in American Stroke Month

  • Share the F.A.S.T. acronym with your friends, family and loved ones throughout American Stroke Month.
  • Share our F.A.S.T. Quiz to test your stroke knowledge.
  • Download our free Spot a Stroke F.A.S.T. mobile app to prepare you in case of a stroke emergency and to have easy access.

Go to to learn more about how you can get involved.




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