American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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Pulse Oximetry Hearing Wows

Everyone in the chamber for DC’s pulse ox hearing listened incredulously as parent after parent shared heart wrenching stories of newborns diagnosed with critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) and how use of a simple test called pulse oximetry saves lives. Every year, more than 6,000 babies are born with some form of a critical congenital heart defect. In the District of Columbia alone, up to 10 infants may die or go undiagnosed every year due to a lack of screening.

“Every baby deserves the best chance of survival,” said mother Hilary Mehrkam, who testified in support of the Healthy Hearts of Babies Act of 2015 in the DC Council Committee on Health and Human Services on February 2.

Young CCHD survivors stole the show as they expressed their thankfulness for the use of pulse oximetry, without which they might not be alive today. Eleven-year-old Mirabel told Councilmember Yvette Alexander because of pulse ox she can now grow up to be an animal nutritionist. Tristan expressed his excitement about doing well in school and participating in cub scouts. Several others, too young to talk, were silent witnesses supporting the lifesaving assessment.

DC Bill 21-6, the Healthy Hearts of Babies Act of 2015 appeals to both parents and medical practitioners since, according to You’re the Cure Advocate Lisa Hom of Children’s National Medical Center, “No doctor wants to be the one who sends a baby home undiagnosed.”

Pulse ox screening is simple, painless, inexpensive, and non-invasive. Research suggests that by pairing this test with already routine prenatal measures, over 90% of newborn CCHD cases can be detected. Over 40 other states have already passed legislation mandating the use of pulse oximetry screening.

This legislation was co-introduced by the majority of the DC Council, but it is still important to write, call, or email your Councilmembers and tell them you support pulse oximetry screening. There are many benefits of this bill, but according to mom Amy Shalawylo, “the peace of mind is priceless.”

Click here to tell your legislators how important this bill is! 

 Pictured are invested parents and their children who testified before the DC Council at the hearing for pulse ox screening.

Take a moment and view this video our team put together from the day of the hearing.

<Special thanks to You’re the Cure Intern Kassie Crook for help developing this blog post>

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The American Heart Association's Go Red For Women Red Dress Collection 2015 Livestream

Join us for this exclusive virtual event where top designers and celebrities demonstrate their support for women's heart health during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Heart disease is not just a man's disease. Each year, 1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke. We can change that--80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. Help break barriers against heart disease and stroke by joining us for the Go Red For Women Red Dress Collection 2015 live online at on Thursday, February 12 at 8 p.m. Eastern. See you there!

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Want To Make A Difference? Here's How!

With 2015 legislative sessions underway, it’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on ways that advocates can make a difference.

How Can You Make an Impact? Here are some examples:

Take Action (and make it personal): When you receive an action alert quickly take action! It’s important to respond when an alert enters your email box; often-times, they contain opportunities to reach out to your legislators on an important issue, and may involve a time sensitive committee hearing or legislative vote – so we recommend that you take action without delay! Don’t forget to let your legislators know why the issue is important to YOU in your communication - that is what they want to hear, why this issue is important to their constituents! Then take that next step, share the alert on social media, and encourage others to take action. Let your friends and family know what you’re up to – and that you’re saving lives with You’re the Cure.

Build the Relationship: Your local contact with lawmakers is critical to ensuring they have information about why issues are important to you and their district. You help draw the connection between state policy choices and local impacts. How can you do this? Think about which of your elected officials you may know – can you cultivate that relationship to make it stronger? Send a personal note with thoughts on the issues you care about. This can really get a lawmakers attention.  Request a meeting and work with your state Grassroots Director to identify others from your community to join (we suggest no more than 4) so that you can provide education on the AHA issues. Consider inviting your elected official to speak to your church or other civic group to share their insights on the policy process.

Above all, it is important to always be respectful, helpful, and clear about what your perspective is and how you hope your elected official can help. We are always available to provide you talking points and guidance.

Attend Advocacy Events: Your state advocacy team will offer trainings, both in-person and via teleconference, which provide a great opportunity to not only learn more about the hot button issues in your state and community, but also offer you the opportunity to meet other great advocates like yourself! Want to know if there is an event coming up in your state? Reach out to your state Grassroots Directors, Keltcie Delamar if you live in MD, DC, or VA or to Kim Chidester if you live in NC or SC, to learn more about what is going on in your area!

Update Your Profile: We want to send you action alerts about issues you want to hear about. Please take a moment and make sure to update your profile. Go to, log in to your account, and click on your name in the top right corner of the screen to access your profile information. Here, you can also select your interests on the "my interest" tab to make sure you are getting emails about the issues that are important to you!

In addition to indicating the issues you are interested in, you can update your contact information so we stay in touch.

Stay in the Know: Watch for our blog posts and updates—they are full of information about what is going on currently, and be sure to share on social media and comment when there is an opportunity. Be sure to stay in touch with your state Grassroots and Government Relations Directors. As your AHA staff partners, your Grassroots and Government Relation Directors are a resource to you and will help provide you with key information—so keep in touch!

Make 2015 the year when you take your advocacy work one step higher – pick one of the ideas and try it out! You will make a difference.

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AHA Awarded Resolution Declaring Friday as National Wear Red Day

“I have a family tradition and it’s not one you look forward to like cookies at Christmas,” began National Go Red Spokeswoman Gail Mates, “it’s heart disease.” Heart Disease is not just a man’s disease. Heart disease kills 1 in 3 women every year. That is more than all cancers combined.

There is no better way to start off Heart Month than with a ceremonial resolution from the DC Council declaring the first Friday of February as National Wear Red Day in the District of Columbia. The DC Council chamber was a blur of red on February 3, as You’re the Cure advocates in red dresses, hats, coats, shoes, ties, and pins displayed their support of Heart Month and the efforts to raise heart disease awareness. AHA thanks the DC Council and especially Councilmember Yvette Alexander, for recognizing Go Red for Women with a ceremonial resolution.

You’re the Cure advocate Gail Mates accepted the resolution by sharing her personal struggle with heart disease. “I was digging my grave with a knife and fork,” she continued.

Although depressed and out of control, Gail decided she would not die from heart disease. “Small, simple changes add up to really big results,” she testified. Gail began walking around her house 5 minutes a day. Today she is proudly preparing to run her first 10K.

If she can change her life, so can we! Change starts with awareness. Mothers, sisters, and friends are dying at the rate of one per minute because they don’t know what you know: heart disease kills. “Speak up and speak out about heart disease,” Gail encouraged. “We all have to band together, wear red, and be powerful, and save the women in our lives.”

Make it your mission to stop the number 1 killer. Show your support by going red! Get started by signing up at to check out helpful resources, tools, and tips to help you celebrate in your own unique way.

We want to see your Wear Red photos, so upload them at using hashtag #GoRedDC or email them to


<Special thanks to You're the Cure intern Kassie Crook for crafting this blog post>


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Gail Mates

Gail Mates, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate

I spent most of my life watching heart disease strike family members. Both grandfathers died of heart attacks, my father suffered from several and even my mother had an enlarged heart and hypertension that made her susceptible. When my father had a stroke, I witnessed firsthand the depression and fear that he felt.  It was heart wrenching to watch.  

In my own life, health issues were mounting. High cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, sleep apnea, esophagus surgery and a metabolic syndrome were just a few of the hurdles I faced.   I was digging my grave with a knife and fork!
I knew my life was going downhill, but nurturing was something I did for others, not myself. It wasn’t until my daughter pled with me to make a change that I finally listened.  My daughter told me through tears that I was killing myself and that she wanted me to be here for her children.  

Diet was the first area I tackled. I began eating ‘live’ foods, shopping on the outside of the grocery store instead of the inner aisles of canned and boxed foods. Exercise came slower, but it was the pace I wanted to set because I knew that doing too much, too soon would backfire. I started with 5 minutes of exercise a week and was soon able to fulfill my dream of completing a 5k run. 

Almost 60 pounds lighter, I am changing my heart every step of the way. My diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, sleep apnea, and esophagus are all great now!   I don’t make excuses; I just do what I need to do.  If it’s snowing outside and I can't get to the gym, I simply walk around my living room and bedroom.  If you can make it easy, you can find a way.

There’s one thing that keeps me going – the smile on my daughter’s face.   I plan to be here for a long long time. 

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Darryl Haley and Councilmember Alexander Do Fitness Friday

Becoming healthier is always among Americans’ top ten New Year’s resolutions and this year Darryl Haley wants to show you how.

Join Darryl as he unfolds the ten hottest fitness trends of 2015 in his new radio segment Fitness Friday on WHUR 96.3. Explore the advantages and disadvantages of treadmill studios, charcoal, juicing, and much more. Darryl conducts exclusive interviews with DC councilmembers who could not wait to set a healthy example and share the healthy habits of the Wards they represent.

Darryl met recently with Councilmember Yvette Alexander, Chair of the DC Health and Human Services Committee. Councilmember Alexander wore bright red apparel in support of February heart month. February 6 is national Go Red for Women day, which is dedicated to spreading life-saving information about heart disease, the number one killer of women.

Councilmember Yvette Alexander also mentioned her efforts to provide CPR training in schools, allow for coverage of tobacco cessation medication, and support the corner store initiatives. She reiterated the importance of taking care of yourself and encouraged all to receive regular doctor checkups. She said, “First you detect it, then treat it, and then you can eliminate it.”

You can tune into WHUR 96.3 on Fridays during the Steve Harvey Morning Show to hear the latest scoop. Although trends come and go, health is always in fashion.

 Check more about Councilmember Alexander's interview here!


<Special thanks to You're the Cure intern Kassie Crook for help developing this blog post>

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One Simple Test Could Save Your Baby’s Life

Congenital heart defects claim the lives of more babies than any other birth defect. Fortunately, there is now a test that can help identify more than 90% of heart defects, catching these life-threatening defects before the baby even leaves the hospital. This life-saving test is called pulse oximetry screening, more commonly known as pulse ox.

What are congenital heart defects?

  • The word congenital means “present at birth.”
  • Heart defects are structural problems that stem from the abnormal formation of the heart or blood vessels.
  • They occur when the heart fails to develop normally within the beginning stages of pregnancy.

 What is pulse ox screening?

  • Pulse ox screening is a non-invasive screening test that reveals 90% of heart defects—defects that often go unnoticed by other tests.
  • The test is done by simply placing light sensors on the baby’s hand and foot.  Once connected, the light sensors scan the baby’s blood oxygen levels and pulse rate—alerting hospital staff of any defects that may be present.
  • Pulse ox screenings are to be done after the baby has been out of the womb for at least 24 hours, but before the baby leaves the hospital. 

Why is pulse ox screening so important?

Congenital heart defects are often asymptomatic.  They can easily go undetected if they are not unveiled by newborn screenings.  And they can be life-threatening.

You’re the Cure Advocate Michele Coleman’s baby was born with a congenital heart defect—pulse ox saved his life. Michele shares the following:

“Pulse ox testing is critical to saving lives of babies with congenital heart defects whose condition would otherwise go undetected.  My son Dylan is one of these babies.  He had an unremarkable birth and was doing everything a baby was supposed to do.  He was eating fine, sleeping fine, he was not blue and he was not showing ANY signs of distress. 

He was lucky enough to be born in Maryland, which had just 2 months prior made the pulse ox screening mandatory for all newborns. 

The abnormal result of his test was the only indicator that he had a congenital heart defect. This test revealed that immediate open heart surgery was required, or he would not live.  Our family is eternally grateful to the staff and advocates of the AHA and other advocacy groups who are working to make pulse ox testing mandatory in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. I tell as many people as I can to make sure that their baby gets tested.”

Left undetected, heart defects that could have been treated at birth may develop into serious, life-threatening conditions.

This highly efficient screening is currently required in over 33 states. DC needs to join this movement to help prevent infant deaths. Contact your council members, urging them to make sure every DC baby gets screened with pulse ox before going home from the hospital.


<Special thanks to You’re the Cure intern Catherine Christiansen for help crafting this blog post>

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Meet the New Surgeon General

Dr. Vivek Murthy was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December to serve as the next surgeon general of the United States. The surgeon general is America’s top public health official, and his responsibilities range from managing disease to promoting prevention and a healthy start for our kids.

At 37, Vivek Murthy is the youngest person and the first Indian-American to hold the post of Surgeon General.

Since this position was created in 1871, just 18 people have held the job. Dr. Murthy, the 19th, replaces an Acting Surgeon General who has filled the role since 2013. Dr. Murthy’s confirmation was delayed for nearly a year due to political issues, but in that time he received the endorsement of more than 100 public health groups, including the American Heart Association.

Dr. Murthy has both business and medical degrees from his studies at Harvard and Yale. He completed his residency at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he most recently served as an attending physician. He has created and led organizations to support comprehensive healthcare reform, to improve clinical trials so new drugs can be made available more quickly and safely, and to combat HIV/AIDS.

His resume is remarkable, and we look forward to working closely with Dr. Murthy to improve the health of all Americans.

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DC Session Prep

We are getting ready to rumble!  We expect the 2015 DC Council session to be eventful and productive.  Get a load of the issues we are preparing to work on, and join us, if you’d like, for a short call January 21st to learn details and how you can help. RSVP to join the Jan 21 Session Prep Call:

CPR Training in Schools - Require CPR training as a requirement for high school graduation in DC schools.  Right now, less than 11% of people suffering out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survive, and training a new class of young citizens in CPR every year can change this frightening statistic. 

Put your two cents in now to alert our legislators we need to solve this problem!

Heart Defect Screening for Newborns - Require all birthing facilities to perform screening for critical congenital heart defects using pulse oximetry on every newborn prior to discharge.  This inexpensive, painless test done shortly after birth alerts the medical team to a potentially fatal condition and allows the opportunity for life-saving intervention.  

We’ll also be working to

- Promote sustainable funding for District tobacco prevention and control programs that meet or exceed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

- Require the DC Medicaid program to cover cessation services for current tobacco users, including both counseling and pharmacotherapy, with no or minimal cost sharing.

- Promote healthy food and beverage vending and service standards for all units of District government that are consistent with AHA or federal nutrition standards.

Thanks for being by our side!  We couldn’t do this without you:  You’re the Cure advocates work to support and advocate for public policies that will help improve the cardiovascular health of Americans and reduce deaths by coronary heart disease and stroke.   If our voice is loud enough this session, we can impact the lives of many Washingtonians for many years to come! 

Click here to send your customizable letter to support CPR training in schools now.


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Kendra Meiklejohn

Kendra Meiklejohn, Mid-Atlantic

My husband and I were so excited at the ultrasound to find out the sex of our second child. We had our son with us. We were joking and talking with the tech. She suddenly grew quiet. When the doctor came in and viewed the ultrasound, he was also very quiet. It didn’t really sink in until they told us, “There is something wrong with your baby’s heart.”

They couldn’t elaborate. They made an appointment for a fetal echo. We had to wait and wonder and worry for 4 days until we got her diagnosis. She had tricuspid atresia. One of her valves hadn’t formed so one ventricle didn’t develop. Without surgical intervention, most babies with this defect will not live to their first birthday.

We were terrified and worried, but also hopeful. I began to share her story to educate others. Before this time I didn’t realize that babies could have heart defects, but I learned that 1 in 100 are born with some sort of heart defect. It is the MOST common birth defect.

Iryl (rhymes with spiral) was monitored closely during my pregnancy. A birth plan was put in place for her. We toured the NICU and PICU at our hospital and we were scheduled to meet with the pediatric cardiac surgeon when Iryl decided to come early- at 34 1/2 weeks.

She was born via an emergency c-section.  She had a few other surprises for us, too. She also has sacral agenesis (no sacrum), heterotaxy (means differently arranged and usually effects the heart, intestines and spleen but can affect other visceral organs), asplenic, duodenal atresia (intestinal blockage) malrotation, pulmonary stenosis and atrial septal defect.

Despite all of this, she is amazing. She is currently 22 months and doing really well. We still check her pulse oximetry reading daily. This simple test, “pulse ox,” is what can save newborns with undetected congenital heart defects. The device is like a band aid with a light that measures the oxygen saturation. Most people have oxygen saturation near 100%. If a newborn’s is a lot lower, more testing needs to be done right away to check for critical issues.

This screening test is NON-invasive, it’s cheap and it’s quick. It can save lives. For as long as there are congenital heart defects, parents and the medical community need to do everything they can to save these kids. Pulse ox screening should be provided for every baby before going home from the hospital.


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