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Shannon and Tristan Rowley, Ohio

Shannon and Tristan Rowley

On February 25, 2015, I started out having what I thought would be a normal day at work. Instead I ended up at the Emergency Room to find that my son, Tristan, had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. He had received CPR, a shock with a defibrillator, was intubated, and was unresponsive. I rode in a helicopter for the first time in my life as he was life-flighted to Children’s Hospital, where we spent the next week getting many tests and then a surgery to implant his cardioverter pacemaker/defibrillator.  

As he slowly regained consciousness we experienced, first-hand, the effects of a hypoxic brain injury as he was unable to recall even simple things for more that 1-2 minutes at a time, and he would need to be reminded of why he was in the hospital literally a hundred-plus times a day. We were told that there was a 20-50% chance that his neurologic deficits and memory issues would be permanent.  At first he needed help going to the bathroom, remembering what day it was and who had visited him less than an hour ago.

I wish someone could have told me then that a year later we would be taking him out to dinner, that we’d be discussing plans for his graduation party and that he’d be working on practice tests to help him prepare to take his computer networking certification exams.  February 25, 2015, was the worst and the best day of my life. Only  5-6% of people who suffer a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital survive. We are incredibly lucky and so, so happy that he survived.

The truth is that the ONLY reason Tristan is alive is because he was in the right place at the right time and with the right people. Those people knew CPR and how to use an AED. Those people were his teachers, as well as a fellow student, who had also learned CPR. The only reason he remains neurologically intact is because he received CPR and defibrillation quickly by trained individuals.

Tristan’s story is a perfect example of why we should be educating our young people on how to help save lives!

--Shannon Rowley 

P.S. Learn CPR!!

 

 

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Christi Nelson, Ohio

Christi Nelson Ohio

I was 29 years old and completely healthy. October 18, 2006, was just like any other day at Akron Children’s Hospital where I was completing my internship to be a Child Life Specialist.

I went out to a bridge that connects the hospital to a parking garage to make a phone call, and that is when my life changed. I collapsed and my heart stopped - I died on that bridge. Security caught my collapse on camera and called a code blue. I went five minutes before my first responder arrived and began administering CPR and AED shocks. Staff from the E.R. at Akron Children’s arrived at the scene and took over my treatment and after approximately 20 minutes of working on me, they decided to transport me to Akron General Medical Center.

I was without a heartbeat for 62 minutes and received 13 shocks with an AED before doctors at Akron General were able to revive my heart but I was not out of the woods yet. I was put in a hypothermic coma in an attempt preserve any possible remaining brain function and my family was given a less than 5 percent chance that I would ever wake from my coma. However, after almost a week, I did wake up. I spent a month recovering in the hospital where I had to relearn to how walk, talk, and eat. I received a defibrillator/pacemaker and underwent dialysis as I also experienced kidney failure. 

I have since been diagnosed with Primary Electrical System Disease which means I have a severe arrhythmia in my heart that tends to put me in Ventricular Fibrillation (V-Fib), which is the most serious type of cardiac rhythm disturbance. My defibrillator will save my life.  I have also received two heart ablations since my cardiac arrest. 

Seventeen months after my cardiac arrest I gave birth to an amazing little girl who is the light of my life and I thank God each and every day for my second chance at life and the chance to fulfill my dream of being a mom.

There is something important to note about my story. In the security footage, you can observe individuals who passed me on the bridge and left me laying there, not attempting to help me before my first responder came on the scene. Once she did arrive and started CPR, nobody attempted to help her either. It is evident that people do not always know what to do in an emergency situation; therefore, they do nothing. This is why passing CPR in Schools legislation in every state is so important. The more individuals we can train with bystander CPR, the more lives we can save. While I am a story of survival, there are too many stories that are not.  Let’s work together to make a difference.

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Roy Varghese, M.D., Kentucky

Roy Varghese, M.D. Kentucky

After more than thirty years of caring for patients in his Eastern Kentucky community, Dr. Roy Varghese unexpectedly became a patient himself. Dr. Varghese had been suffering indigestion-like symptoms throughout a long day of caring for patients, when he made the decision to go to his local emergency room, ARH Mary Breckinridge Hospital in Hyden. That decision saved his life, as he was suffering from an acute inferior myocardial infarction, or heart attack.

Shortly after his arrival in the ER, Dr. Varghese's condition worsened and he required an electric shock to restore normal heart rhythm. He was transferred to Hazard ARH for additional cardiac care, and eventually on to UK Chandler Medical Center and the Gill Heart Institute, where he arrived on a ventilator and remained unconscious for more than a week. Thankfully, his family elected not to have life support withdrawn and with determination and the support of his loved ones, Dr. Varghese recovered. He continues his cardiac rehabilitation by walking three miles daily in his Hyden community where he returned to his practice.

Dr. Varghese recently put his passion for advocacy for heart disease research and prevention to work, traveling to Capitol Hill to share his story with lawmakers during the Rally for Medical Research. Since returning from DC, Dr. Varghese, has met again with staff from Senator McConnell's and Congressman Rogers' local offices to speak with them about his own research. Dr. Varghese is piloting a study examining how 2-3 cups daily of homemade yogurt containing the probiotic lactobacillus can help reduce or prevent the intestinal bacteria the leads to trimethylamine oxide (TMAO). TMAO in the blood allows fat and cholesterol to enter blood vessel walls and start the process of atherosclerosis. It is thought that by suppressing the production of TMAO, much of the entry of cholesterol into blood vessels could be prevented. 

We thank Dr. Varghese for his dedication to cardiovascular research and look forward to continuing to work with him to advocate for research funding.

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Join the Patient Support Network Today!

Improve your life and the lives of others when you join the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Support Network, a virtual support community. Share your experiences. Give and get emotional support. Our communities and conversations offer survivors, caregivers and family members a place to ask a question, share concerns or fears, provide helpful tips, and find encouragement and inspiration. Whether you are a heart disease or stroke survivor or someone who loves them, our goal is to connect you with others who are going through similar journeys. Join the network today!

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Have a Story to Share? We'd Love to Hear It!

Are you a heart disease or stroke survivor or have a loved one who is? Were you saved by CPR (or have you saved someone else)? Please take a moment now to Share Your Story with us!

Like Melinda's story of survival, your story can make a difference. Whether it’s working to ensure our students learn lifesaving CPR or helping create smoke-free cities and states, personal stories illustrate for lawmakers how important heart-healthy policies are to those in their communities.

Want to share your story via video? Upload it here! Want to share your story in writing? Just click here! (We'll follow up to get your permission before using your story.)

We hope you'll take a moment now to tell us your story. We'd love to hear it!

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Advocate Spotlight: Tonii Rizzo

Tonii Rizzo Kentucky

In April 2006, Tonii Rizzo was the picture of health. An avid runner who exercised every day, he never expected to have a "widow maker" heart attack that would forever change his life. According to Tonii (pictured here with Senator Julie Denton), the good news is that he’s still "green side up," but that doesn’t come without some trade-offs, including blood thinners, regular visits to his cardiologist, ultrasounds and EKGs.

Fortunately, Tonii has been able to resume his active lifestyle of exercising, running a business and giving back to his community. "Giving back" includes serving on AHA’s Kentuckiana Board of Directors for the last 5 years in positions that include past Heart Ball Development Chair and current Board Chair. In addition, Tonii advocates for heart-healthy public policies at the local, state and federal levels at every opportunity. His actions have ranged from writing letters-to-the-editor to calling his lawmakers to meeting with them face-to-face on issues ranging from smoke-free indoor air to CPR training for Kentucky’s high school students.

According to Metro Director, Kathy Renbarger, "Tonii is a passionate advocate for the mission of the American Heart Association. He has been instrumental in raising awareness of heart disease and stroke in our community."

As Tonii says, "God allowed me to live that day so that I could help raise awareness about heart disease." Thank you, Tonii, for your tireless efforts to improve Kentucky's heart-health!

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Felicia Guerrero

Felicia Guerrero Ohio

As an active You’re the Cure Advocate and Physician Outreach and Marketing Liaison for the University of Toledo, Felicia Guerrero is no stranger to speaking up for improved health for Ohio’s kids and communities. So, it was no surprise that Felicia jumped at the chance to deliver “lunch” (a lunch bag of puzzle pieces representing healthy school meals) to both U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur’s and U.S. Senator Rob Portman’s offices in support of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Felicia describes her passion for heart-health advocacy as two-fold. Her son was born with a minor arrhythmia which, thankfully, was corrected by the age of seven. In addition, her mother-in-law passed away from a massive heart attack, even though she showed no noticeable physical signs of heart disease. No one suspected her vague symptoms in the days leading up to the event were heart-related.

In retrospect, Felicia feels that if “we would have known…” about preventive heart-healthy habits and learning the symptoms of heart attacks specific to women, her mother-in-law may have saved.

Felicia is also a big advocate for Ohio Lobby Days, where constituents gather to meet with their lawmakers at the Statehouse in Columbus. She believes that “personal stories speak volumes” and being able to share her story with lawmakers has an even greater impact on passing heart-healthy policies for all Ohioans.

Thank you, Felicia, for all you do to improve heart-health in the Buckeye State!

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Advocate Spotlight: Mark Shacklette

Mark Shacklette

In February of 1967, my father, Dr. Charles L. Shacklette, died of a heart attack.  He was only 45 years old and I was only 14 months old.  In November of 2007, I also had a heart attack: a "widow-maker." And this still happened despite all the precautions I had taken.  I was very much aware of my family’s history of heart disease and wanted to ensure I didn’t suffer the same fate as my dad.  I ate right and I exercised regularly.  I maintained a very healthy weight.  I NEVER smoked.  I was, and still am, a fitness instructor at the YMCA.  And despite all of this I also suffered a heart attack, but a stent and a great cardiologist made all the difference.  Because of stents and the research dollars that helped developed them, I survived.  And 6 years later, I am doing very well. 

After my heart attack, I began to ask my mom more about what happened to my dad in February of 1967.  How did he describe the pain?  What were his symptoms?  My mom’s description of his symptoms matched mine – the feeling that someone had hit you in the chest with a sledge-hammer – so I’m convinced my dad also had a widow-maker heart attack.  Unfortunately for mom, it did make her a widow who had to raise five children on her own. 

My dad survived for two days after his initial heart attack.  If only he would have had access to stents like I did.  I’m sure it would have saved him, too, and it would have saved my mom from being a widow. It would have been nice to know my dad.

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Heart Month this February!!

February is American Heart Month and February 7th is National Wear Red Day and, although it’s wonderful to see so many people supporting heart-health awareness this month, it’s important to remember that the battle against heart disease is fought year-round.

How can you help make February a great Heart Month? Macy's encourages everyone to Color Your World Red in support of Go Red For Women! To learn more about other ways to show your support, please visit the Go Red For Women website.

Thank you for helping advance heart-health in our communities!

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Advocate Spotlight: Tony Lindeman, Ohio

Tony Lindeman Ohio

The morning of September ‎29‎, ‎2012, ‎started like all my previous ‎16‎,‎911 ‎days as I woke up before my alarm, jumped out of bed and was soon ready to take on the challenges of the day‎. ‎My first challenge that day ‎was completing my eighth marathon in Akron, Ohio‎. ‎I was ‎prepared to run the marathon after completing the same extensive marathon training I did each year since ‎2007‎.

My friends and I lined up at the starting line of the Akron Marathon and put together our plan to meet at the end of the race‎. ‎Running a marathon ‎was nothing new to anyone in the group so we all knew what to expect when the race started, or so we thought‎. ‎On our marathon training runs, we usually ran together about ‎5‎-‎10 ‎miles before we separated based on our different running paces‎. ‎As we approached the first mile of the race ‎it was a little unusual that my friends began to pull ahead but that was just the beginning of what would be a very different run‎.‎

‎I was approaching mile two on a very crowded street and next thing I remember I was on a hospital bed‎. ‎What is going on? What happened? ‎Why am I here? Those were just some of the questions that ran through my head‎. ‎A nurse entered my room and said, ‎“‎Today is the luckiest day ‎of your life‎.‎” ‎I was very confused not knowing what happened‎. ‎How am I lucky to be in a hospital bed and obviously injured? I was in pain with ‎cuts on my face, hand, arm, knee, and in a neck brace unable to move‎. ‎The nurse figured out I had no idea what happened and added, ‎“‎Once ‎you learn your story, you will understand how today is the luckiest day of your life‎. ‎“‎

While running my eighth marathon at mile ‎2‎, I went into sudden cardiac arrest ‎(‎SCA‎). ‎Lucky for me, I happened to be running in a group with quite a few nurses‎. ‎As soon as I fell down, two of those nurses who were running closest to me began ‎CPR after finding no pulse‎. ‎They continued performing life‎-‎saving CPR for over ‎10 ‎minutes until paramedics arrived and shocked me back ‎to life with a defibrillator‎. ‎As I heard my story, I realized the hospital nurse was right‎—“‎today was the luckiest day of my life‎.‎” ‎

There was no history of heart disease or heart related problems in my family‎. ‎I passed yearly physicals with great lab results‎. ‎My cardiac arrest took everyone off guard‎. ‎I ran over ‎1,000 ‎miles a year and thought I was taking good care of myself, so a cardiac arrest was not supposed to ‎happen‎. ‎While in the hospital, test after test indicated nothing wrong with my heart‎. ‎Doctors found no explanation for my sudden cardiac arrest ‎and they told me that my heart was good‎. ‎Despite the ‎“‎healthy‎” ‎heart, it was decided the Subcutaneous Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator ‎(‎S‎-‎ICD‎) ‎was needed since my heart obviously went into a strange electrical rhythm resulting in SCA‎. ‎I was soon the recipient of a S‎-‎ICD which ‎would shock me back if I ever had a repeat SCA‎.‎

Today I am good friends with the nurses who saved me, continue running races ‎(‎after doctor approval‎)‎, joined heart awareness athletic groups ‎(‎Cardiac Athletes and Ironheart Racing‎) ‎and work with the American Heart Association to promote CPR‎. ‎The AHA was instrumental in organizing ‎a CPR training event in my hometown where ‎150 ‎citizens were trained in Hands‎-‎Only CPR‎. ‎With the help of the AHA more people will know CPR, ‎which means more cardiac arrest survivors to tell stories like mine‎.‎

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