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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 Thankfully, his family elected not to have life support withdrawn and with determination and the support of his loved ones, Dr.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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Advocate Spotlight: John Pribanic

John Pribanic

At 104 years old, John Pribanic is an inspiration and a model of one who has lived and fought to maintain an active and heart-healthy life.  Several years ago, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur and high blood pressure and was supposed to undergo surgery to insert a pacemaker.  However, after fracturing his hip seven years ago, John moved from his home in Pennsylvania to Delaware for rehab.  The team at Kent General Hospital worked with John to improve his strength and allow him once again to enjoy one of his passions—walking.  After the rehab, John no longer needed that pacemaker.

John has always managed to stay physically active.  An engraver for Westinghouse Electric for 40 years and the township commissioner for 25 years, he was also a faithful member of the YMCA in his hometown of West Wilmerding, PA.  There, he walked and swam every day until his hip injury a few years ago.  Later, he added to his daily exercise routine by joining the Modern Maturity Center where he was able to walk and swim three times a week.

Born in Croatia, John came to the United States at the age of 3 and survives his sister, four brothers, and both parents, who lived until they were 89.  He has two sons, four granddaughters, and five great-grandchildren.  John has not only fought against his own cardiovascular problems, but his wife of 53 years passed away after a battle with heart disease when she was 76. 

He currently resides in Dover, Delaware, where he still walks about half a mile or more each day and inspires other residents in his assisted living facility to do the same.  He just celebrated his 104th birthday and is still determined to stay healthy to avoid future heart issues.

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It Is Never Too Late to Quit Smoking

Actually, it is never too late to quit using all forms of tobacco!  Health benefits begin immediately, including on the cardiovascular system.  Check out this great infographic and then take these critical steps:

1.  If you use tobacco, set a quit date.  Call 1-800-Quit-Now for support.

2.  If you have a loved one who uses tobacco, encourage them to call 1-800-Quit-Now .

3.  Is your local school 100% tobacco free?  It helps reduce kids' risk of starting and it protects everyone from exposure.  Encourage your local school to join the growing list of 100% tobacco free schools.

4.  Support efforts to restore adequate funding for comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation in Ohio!

5.  Check out these other great Be Tobacco Free resources.


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