American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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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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Representative Prasad Srinivasan, Connecticut

Dr. Prasad Srinivasan, an allergist, is a long time resident of the town of Glastonbury, and is currently serving his third term as the town’s state representative. He is a member of the General Assembly’s Public Health; Finance Revenue & Bonding; and Planning & Development committees.

As the only physician in the state legislature, Representative Srinivasan partnered with the American Heart Association (AHA) to lead the charge in order to raise the state’s tobacco purchase age to 21. Knowing that 56,000 Connecticut kids now under the age of 18 will eventually die prematurely from their own tobacco use, he introduced legislation this session ( if passed would have accomplished raising the purchase age and thus made it more difficult for minors to get tobacco products on their own.

In order to better educate the media and other legislators about raising the tobacco purchase age, Representative Srinivasan also organized a press conference at the Capitol in March ( The press conference was well attended by media and brought together legislators from both sides of the aisle, as well as a coalition of advocates in support. Unfortunately the legislation did not pass this year, but he will again lead the charge in January at the start of the 2017 legislative session.

In addition to being a physician and a legislator, Representative Srinivasan is at heart a family man. He has been married to his wife for 33 years, Mrs. Kala Prasad, who is a professional musician. He also has two children. His son Dr. Sashank Prasad, is on Faculty at Harvard Medical School. His daughter, Ms. Anusha Prasad Rodriguez, is a graduate of MIT and Wharton, and currently works for Citibank in NY.

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They Want to Hear From You!

Even though Connecticut is indeed a small state, it still consists of no fewer than 169 towns and cities. Within those towns and cities are 151 state representatives and 36 state senators, all of whom are re-elected every two years. You are a constituent to one particular state representative and state senator, and their job is to represent you in Hartford. As an advocate of the American Heart Association, it is important that you know who your own legislators are, and just as important that they know who you are. 

To create this relationship requires little of your time and could start as easily as you sending them a short email introducing yourself as a constituent and letting them know about an issue that you are passionate about, such as heart disease, childhood obesity, unhealthy school marketing or tobacco use.  Once you have exchanged an email or two with your legislators, follow it up periodically with a short note, such as wishing them a fun and relaxing summer, luck in their upcoming elections in November, and a happy holidays. This way they will remember your name and when you need a word with them, their door will be open. Remember, they represent you and really do want to hear from their constituents!

To find your legislator go to You will be asked to pick your town and to enter your street address and will then be provided with a link to their bio’s containing contact information. You can also email me at, and I am happy to help set up and facilitate meetings.

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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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