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CT Needs State-Wide Hospital Stroke Designation Program

In Connecticut, stroke has been one of the top 5 leading causes of death and the leading cause of disability. An abundance of medical literature demonstrates that stroke patients receive better care, have better outcomes, and have less treatment related complications at centers equipped to treat stroke within the context of a system of care.  A stroke designation system improves the care delivered to all persons with stroke, and is inclusive for all hospitals.

Stroke certified hospitals are required to comply with a number of standards related to access and availability of appropriate leadership and stroke expertise, written treatment and transfer guidelines and the ability to provide necessary diagnostic testing and interpretation. Stroke certification is essential because it assures the public and the EMS community that a hospital has the procedures and guidelines in place to ensure persons experiencing stroke systems will be rapidly accessed and given the most definitive treatment, or triage, as rapidly as possible.

The state legislature appointed a stroke task force, and one of its recommendations in its February, 2016 final report was to re-establish and maintain a state-wide, hospital stroke designation program. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming 2017 state legislative session that will accomplish this. Although the session does not begin until January, we are already at work forming a coalition of like-minded organizations and beginning to educate both advocates such as yourself and legislators. As this issue continues to develop we will keep you updated.

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New USDA Rules to Improve School Health Environment: What They Are and What You Can Do to Get Involved.

Teaching children healthy eating habits is critical to their long-term health. Parents strive to instill healthy habits at home, and schools have worked hard to improve the nutritional quality of school meals, snacks, and beverages sold in schools. Schools, especially, play a critical role in promoting health and wellness which is the reason why, in an effort to make school environments healthier, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) released regulations concerning local school wellness policies, one of the four final rules that has the potential to create a positive impact on the health and wellness of school aged children.

Each school district that participates in the National School Lunch Program and/or School Breakfast Program is required to have a local school wellness policy for all schools under its jurisdiction. Because the policy is established at the local level, it should be used as a tool to guide the school districts efforts in promoting whole child health and wellness as well as meet the unique needs of each school within the community. Under the final rule for local school wellness policies, school districts must:

  • Establish wellness policy leadership who will have the authority and responsibility to ensure each school complies with the policy
  • Encourage participation by the general public including parents, students, food service representatives, teachers, school health professionals, and administrators in the development, review, implementation, and assessment of the policy
  • Review and consider evidence-based strategies in determining specific goals for nutrition promotion and education, physical activity, and other school-based activities that promote student wellness
  • Include nutritional guidelines for all foods and beverages available for sale on the school campus during the school day within the policy to ensure consistency with federal regulations as well as for other foods and beverages offered during the school day (classroom parties, snacks, or foods given as incentives)
  • Include policies for food and beverage marketing that allow marketing and advertising of only foods and beverages that meet the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards

The American Heart Association has been working with state and local partners to advocate for more comprehensive policies to support healthier school environments. Local advocate support is always needed to not only help bring awareness but to also lend your voice to the fight against unhealthy children in your community.  Want to get involved? Send an email to to sign-up to get helpful tips and ideas on becoming active advocate for change in your community.

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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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Dina Plapler, Connecticut

Dina Plapler has been an advocate and supporter of the fight against heart disease and stroke for much of her professional career. Serving as the AHA’s Executive Director of the CT and Western MA markets for the past two years, and now taking on a new role of a Senior Advisor, Mission Advancement, she has raised millions of dollars for AHA, helped build a Board and committed volunteer groups, and supported advocacy and education efforts across the State. She is especially proud of her success in more than doubling the funds raised in the market within two years, as well as the community and workplace wellness awareness efforts she and her team have promoted along with increased fundraising.

Prior to coming to AHA, Dina oversaw the advancement efforts for UConn Health, raising funds for the cardiology and stroke departments through major gifts, special events and grant funding.

Dina is motivated to support the AHA’s vital efforts for many reasons, including seeing her beloved father in law suffer from heart disease, as well as her commitment to supporting medical advancement and research so that future generations are healthier and free of heart disease and stroke.

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Learning CPR in Schools

Nearly 383,000 people have cardiac arrest outside of a hospital every year, and only 11% survive, most likely because they don’t receive timely CPR. Given right away, CPR doubles or triples survival rates. Teaching students CPR could save thousands of lives by filling our community with lifesavers- those trained to give sudden cardiac arrest victims the immediate help they need to survive until EMT’s arrive. Sudden cardiac arrest can happen any place, at any time. If you suffer sudden cardiac arrest, your best chance at survival is receiving bystander CPR. But most do not.

Fortunately, Connecticut is one of thirty-four states that requires CPR training to be part of the public school curriculum. Thanks to passionate advocates like yourself the CT legislature passed this law in 2015 and school districts state-wide are now gearing up to meet the July 1, 2016 requirement. Teaching students CPR before they graduate will put thousands of qualified lifesavers on our streets and into our neighborhoods every year!

As part of national CPR and AED Awareness Week (June 1-7), Dr. Ed Cronin, who is an attending electrophysiologist at Hartford Hospital, an assistant professor of medicine at UCONN, and a member of the Connecticut and Western Massachusetts American Heart Association Board of Directors was interviewed by WTIC. To listen to the short interview click here and scroll down: 

Awareness of CPR may only be celebrated one week out of the year, but for students who learn how to perform CPR, it is a skill that will last a lifetime, and maybe save a life as well!

To learn more about emergency cardiovascular care, click here:!

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First Major City To Pass Sugary Drink Tax Is..

Earlier this month, Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to pass a sugary drink tax, scoring a significant win for kids and public health- while defeating a very formidable opponent, Big Soda, which spent millions of dollars trying to defeat the proposal. The City Council has approved a budget, which includes a 1.5 cents per once tax on sugary drinks to fund citywide Pre-K, community schools, parks, libraries, and recreation centers.

With this win, Philadelphia joins Berkley, CA (the first U.S. city to pass a sugary drink tax), Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and the United Kingdom in passing a measure to help reduce sugary drink consumption and lower rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases.

As governors and mayors struggle with budgets and the high costs of chronic diseases, considering taxes on sugary drinks are an effective strategy to fund much-needed health programs throughout their communities. As the fifth largest city in the nation, Philadelphia’s exemplary public health leadership provides an inspiring example for other cities from coast to coast!


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Unhealthy Food/Beverage Marketing In Schools

Parents know from experience that food marketing works. Cartoon characters on cereal boxes and toy giveaways with restaurant kids’ meals appeal to children and influence which foods they ask for and are willing to eat. When you send your children to school, you expect them to learn in an environment that not only promotes learning, but one that is safe and supports their health and wellbeing. Schools have stepped up to the plate by making school meals and snacks healthier. Nutrition education and food marketing in schools should reinforce those efforts and support healthy eating habits

Even though Connecticut has been a national leader in strengthen school nutrition standards, companies marketing unhealthy foods and beverages to students can still be seen in CT schools. Posters and signs, sports uniforms and scoreboards, vending machine exteriors, sponsorships, and incentive programs are all tactics of food companies to market their product or brand within the school environment. If these marketing methods didn’t work, companies wouldn’t be spending almost $150 million on marketing just in schools[i]! This marketing undermines your efforts to feed your children healthfully and cultivate lifelong healthy eating habits.

 It is time to stop food and beverage companies from selling our children short. You can become active advocates within your local school district by engaging in some these simple action steps:

  • Attend an advocacy training event to learn how you can advocate for healthy marketing in CT schools. Email campaign coordinator Jessica Mahon ( to learn of upcoming training events.
  • Find out if your school district has an active local school wellness committee. If they do, ask about attending one of their meetings as a parent or community member.
  • If you would like additional resources on how to connect with your local school wellness committee and how to start the conversation about addressing marketing in schools email
  • For parents, get to your local PTA/PTO or other parent groups or team up with other community organizations to support efforts and ask school officials to adopt a policy that ends unhealthy food and beverage marketing on school property. For additional resources to share with parent groups in regards to how to advocate for healthier school environments email jessica.mahon@heart.

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FDA Agrees To Regulate E-Cigarettes

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently took a critical step to protect our kids from a new generation of tobacco products by issuing a rule that establishes FDA oversight of electronic cigarettes, cigars, hookah and other previously unregulated tobacco products. Concerned public health advocates see e-cigarettes as a route of nicotine addiction and possibly as a potential gateway to tobacco use in youth or nonsmokers and to re-initiation use by former smokers. Among other things, these regulations:

  • Prohibit sales to children under the age of 18
  • Requires all tobacco products containing nicotine to carry an addiction warning label
  • Requires disclosure of ingredients and documents related to health
  • Prohibits manufacturers from claiming a tobacco product is less harmful without first providing the FDA with scientific evidence

 The AHA plans to submit written comments on these new regulations to the CT Public Health committee which is hosting a public hearing on May 25th with the hopes of making these regulations even stronger in our state by:

  • Strengthening youth marketing regulations
  • Banning candy and fruit flavors that appeal to kids
  • Requiring child-resistant packaging for liquid nicotine and other tobacco products
  • Requiring that tobacco products bear a warning statement about the risk of nicotine exposure



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Sharon Mierzwa, Connecticut

Access to healthy food can be challenging in any environment, but particularly difficult for families with young children, teen residents and seniors living in high poverty areas of Connecticut. Many urban neighborhoods meet the definition of a food desert: low-income areas without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Canned and processed foods available at small convenience stores are often heavily loaded with sodium and added sugar, not the nutrients that promote heart health.

AHA addresses nutrition issues by promoting increased access to healthy foods and beverages. One way this is being done is through a nationwide project known as ANCHOR: Accelerating National Community Health Outcomes through Reinforcing Partnerships. This effort is one of 15 projects nationwide aimed at improving community health.  Sharon Mierzwa is AHA’s ANCHOR program regional campaign manager working on policy and environmental changes in Hartford and New Haven. Sharon lives in Hartford and has raised three children there while working with public health programs that prevent obesity, chronic disease and health disparities. She is a registered dietitian, public health program planner and evaluator, licensed massage therapist, and active community member serving on non-profit state and local organization boards and faith-based councils. Her first year anniversary working with AHA will be this June; you might meet her volunteering at the Hartford and New Haven Heart Walk and the Little Heart Heroes events. Her youngest son is an urban planner in Ventura County, California. Her daughter is an infectious disease doctor at Hartford Hospital, and her oldest son is an Air Force Major assisting homeless veterans to secure housing in the Denver area.

Sharon works closely with food policy council members, food system directors, and existing coalitions to make foods like fresh fruits and vegetables more available through farmers markets, community gardens and food assistance programs. Cafeterias and vending machine items are assessed in worksites and public facilities to see how food and beverage offerings could be improved health-wise. Together with community partners we are increasing awareness of healthy options to make the healthy choice the easy choice through system changes. Join us!

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Tough Session So Far...

The 2016 legislative session began in January and ends on May 4th, 2016. It has been a session that has largely been overshadowed by a significant multi-year budget deficit and legislators that are also focused on their upcoming November elections. This, however, has not prevented the American Heart Association from continuing to advocate on behalf of our issues.

Bills were introduced that, if passed, would have prohibited unhealthy marketing in public schools, offered healthier vending options on state property, increased the smoking age to 21, and instituted a one cent per once tax on sugar-added beverages. Unfortunately, none of these bills made it out of their committees.

Although it has been a tough session thus far, there has been a big win in the Education committee, which decided not to vote on a bill that would have, in part, taken CPR training out of the public school curriculum. There is also a bill currently on the floor of the house which begins to address childhood obesity, but if passed will require additional work next session. Once session ends please look for the comprehensive session wrap-up!

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