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Leigh Pechillo, Connecticut

Leigh Pechillo brings an extraordinary level of commitment and passion to her work as a volunteer for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Leigh suffered a massive heart attack on Mother’s Day in 2014 and was saved by her husband, Tom, who performed necessary lifesaving CPR on her until emergency services were able to take over. But her experience is not the only way heart disease struck Leigh’s family…her father passed away from congestive heart failure after years of heart related issues, her son Robby was born with two congenital heart defects, and Tom is also a heart defect survivor.

Leigh now spends much of her time raising money and awareness for congenital heart defects and heart disease. She is a frequent blogger for the Huffington Post, often speaking not only about her own experience as a survivor, but also of the importance of being CPR certified and of maintaining a healthy heart. She is happy to share her experiences so that hopefully others will be able to live a heart-healthy life.

As an American Heart Association/American Stroke Association volunteer, Leigh has also been extremely helpful as a legislative advocate in CT, often contacting her legislators and testifying on bills of importance at the Capitol. She submitted written testimony to the Public Health committee in 2015 to make CPR training part of the public school curriculum so that others “may one day save the life of someone they love.” CPR in Schools training is now part of the school curriculum because of volunteer efforts like Leigh’s.

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Dedicated Advocates Save CPR Training!

During the 2015 legislative session, AHA advocates worked hard to pass legislation making CT the 24th state to require CPR training in the public school curriculum.  At the same time, a High School Graduation Task Force was formed to review recent changes to the state’s high school graduation requirements.

Upon completion of its study, the Task Force submitted numerous recommendations to the legislature’s Education committee. One of their recommendations was to remove the CPR training requirement from the curriculum! Their main issue was that they thought it would be difficult to fund and to find available instructors. We informed them that the per-student cost would be approximately $1.00, and that many schools have been able to provide training at no cost using community volunteer instructors or video-based programs, donated equipment, and drawing support from businesses, foundations, civic organizations and public agencies.

The AHA advocacy team lobbied hard against this proposal and testified on the bill at its public hearing. When the bill was finally discussed numerous legislators expressed support for maintaining CPR training in the curriculum and seemed surprised that the Task Force proposed taking it out. What made the real difference, however, was that AHA volunteers, board members and employees sent emails and made numerous phone calls to targeted members on the Education committee. Largely because of these activities, the committee ultimately did not advance the bill and CPR training remains in the curriculum.

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CT Considers Increasing Tobacco Purchase Age

An issue that has begun to pick up traction nationally is increasing the tobacco purchase age to 21. Currently only Hawaii has passed such a law, but numerous states, including CT, have considered it during their current legislative sessions.

The American Heart Association, along with other groups, testified in favor of the bill before the Public Health committee. There was also a press conference in support of the bill, which was attended by both Democrat and Republican lawmakers as well as two American Heart Association representatives: advocate and CT/Western Mass. Board President Dr. Seth Lapuk, and CT Government Relations Director, Mr. Jim Williams.

Opposition to the bill was mainly done behind the scenes by the tobacco industry, who suggested that if the bill passed the state would lose significant tax revenue. In a year when the state is facing a massive budget deficit, this opposition proved enough to kill the bill. Legislators and advocates will be back next legislative session to continue work on this important effort in our fight against tobacco.

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Healthy Vending and Marketing Bill in CT

The American Heart Association was successful in having a bill raised in the Public Health committee that seeks to require a study of food dispensed in vending machines maintained on state property, with the goal of ensuring that the machines eventually offer plenty of healthy choices to the consumer. Senate Bill 296 also looks to prohibit public schools from marketing foods or beverages that do not meet nutrition standards schools are required to meet under the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program. While we are indeed happy that these issues are being addressed, the marketing language narrowly defines advertising as “signs or posters,” when advertisers use various other mediums like fundraisers, incentive coupons and branded educational materials. Senate Bill 296 is a good first step and we look forward to strengthening the language to ultimately make it a better bill.

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CT Considers Raising the Minimum Age to Purchase Tobacco Products

On Wednesday, March 2nd, the Public Health committee held a public hearing on a number of bills, one of which was a proposal to raise the minimum purchase age to 21 for tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and vapor products. The American Heart Association and other health advocacy groups testified in favor of Senate Bill 290, which will ultimately help to build healthier lives for CT children. There are some staggering statistics about this issue that you may not know: 

•Approximately 13 percent of CT High School students smoke.

•56,000 CT kids who are now under the age of 18 will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.

•$2.3B in annual health care costs in CT are directly caused by smoking, $520M of which is covered by the Medicaid program.

•The federal and state tax burden for CT residents from smoking-caused government expenditures is $916 per household.

These statistics are especially important because most teens who smoke and use tobacco report getting cigarettes and other products from their friends, and 90% of those who provide cigarettes to younger teens are under the age of 21. Many other states are working on this issue as well. We look to join Hawaii, which became to first state to pass such legislation in June 2015.

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Take the You're the Cure Advocate Survey

2015 was a great year for You're the Cure advocates and the many policy efforts that you work on. We have big plans for 2016, and we want to hear from you and what you want to see in the future for You're the Cure.

So take the survey now and let your voice be heard.

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Meet Our New Team Member

My name is Jim Williams, and I am your new CT Director of Government Relations. I’m very excited to hit the ground running during the legislative session, which began Wednesday. For the past 10 years I worked as the Government Relations Director for the CT State Dental Association. I have also worked for a Hartford lobbying firm and spent 8 years in the Marine Corps.

The 2016 legislative session is called a “short” session and ends on May 4th, which means things will happen very quickly. As you may have heard, we have three main legislative priorities this year.

·         Proposing a tax on sugary soft drinks

·         Expanding healthy food choices on state property

·         Reducing unhealthy food and beverage marketing in schools

As we progress through the session, I will keep you informed every step of the way. The biggest asset we have is you, our advocate. Your state representative and state senator sincerely like to hear from their constituents on issues that are important to them.

I look forward to working with you and want you to know that I am always available should you have any questions. Thank you in advance for your efforts on behalf of the American Heart Association and helping to advance our legislative priorities.





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Help Us Stop Our Schools from Marketing Unhealthy Foods to Our Kids!

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, 88% of Connecticut school districts are successfully serving healthy meals that meet strong nutrition standards. However, the food industry is still allowed to market unhealthy products in our schools. This sends a mixed message to our students. It is also counterproductive to creating the culture of health our students need to be successful. Let’s stop sending our students mixed messages.  

Connecticut students are already bombarded everyday outside of school with advertisements through social media, television, radio, and print that encourage them to consume unhealthy foods and beverages. The average Connecticut student in grades K-12 will spend 900 hours in school each year. That’s an additional 900 hours they will be exposed to marketing tactics that encourage them to consume unhealthy foods and beverages.  

The food industry is taking advantage of our students and treating them as a captive audience.  We look forward to working with you to ensure our schools provide our students with the culture of health they need to be successful.



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A New Year in Connecticut

The legislature is getting ready to go back to work and I am excited about all the great policies we are going to be working on. We have made great progress on ensuring that our schools aren’t serving unhealthy foods, so why are they allowed to advertise them in schools? We think that schools should not allow the marketing of unhealthy foods that do not meet Connecticut’s school nutrition standards. We also think we have an opportunity to provide healthy food and beverages in vending machines in all state owned and operated buildings.

We also have an opportunity to secure much needed funding to ensure that we are able to construct bikeways and walkways, provide for safe routes to schools and provide incentives to schools that promote shared use of school facilities. We also believe that we can improve the quality of care provided to the residents of Connecticut by creating a stroke system of care. We look forward to working with you to ensure that we are improving the lives of Connecticut residents.

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Get Social With Your Members of Congress

Will you be on Facebook or Twitter today? Your Members of Congress and their staff will be, and it's a good place to reach them according to a report released in October by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF).

The CMF report, #SocialCongress, says Congressional offices are listening to social media chatter and it takes relatively few posts or comments to get their attention. That's good news for us!

So, how can you use the Facebook newsfeed or Twitter timeline to get the attention of lawmakers and help pass heart healthy policies?

  • Follow your members of Congress, as well as state and local elected officials on Twitter. ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ their pages on Facebook.
  • Tweet about our health policy issues, tagging the appropriate legislators by using the @ sign and their Twitter handle. For example: I’m from Pennsylvania, so I’d tag my U.S. Senators by including @SenBobCasey & @SenToomey in my tweet.
  • If they allow it, you can post about our issues directly on the Facebook pages of elected officials. Frequently, that feature is disabled but you are able to comment on their posts. According to #SocialCongress, Congressional offices typically monitor those comments for a limited period of time. Your best bet is to comment within the first 24 hours after a post.
  • Rally your friends and family members to tweet, post or comment about an issue on a single ‘day of action’. CMF’s survey data shows just 30 or fewer comments can be enough to make a legislative office pay attention.
  • Be sure to use the campaign hashtag if one has been created by your advocacy staff partners. The #hashtag allows all the relevant posts to be woven together to tell our story, and makes your post searchable by others interested in the issue.    

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