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Active Communities are Healthy Communities

Guest Blogger: Erin Bennett, Idaho Government Relations Director

For the last 12 months the American Heart Association and our coalition partners have been working diligently on educating legislators on the benefits of investing in the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. Investing in making our communities safer for people to walk and bike is vital to improving our state’s overall health.

During Lobby Day this year, we helped Legislators understand the benefits of Safe Routes, beyond just the increase in physical activity for children. When we invest in making it safer for children to walk and bike to school we make it safer for everyone in the community to get out and get active. SRTS legislation would dedicate state dollars to funding infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects that would make it easier, safer, and help encourage kids to walk and bike to school every day.

We know there are long term benefits to health, education, transportation, the environment, and in communities across the state.

With session over and legislators back in their home districts, we are working to expand the information people have about SRTS and how these programs can improve their communities. We are reaching out to more organizations for support of this work, and to all our wonderful volunteers who know how important physical activity is to children to prevent heart disease and stroke risks.

Our Idaho Heart Walk is on Saturday, May 14th, where we will continue to talk about the benefits of Safe Routes to School, and encourage individuals to sign on to support SRTS funding in the 2017 Legislative Session. This is the perfect opportunity to join us to celebrate heart health and encourage kids to be more active. Please join us by signing up at, and come to the AHA/ ASA booth to learn more about Safe Routes to School, and help support active transportation and improved health!

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Will you help influence scientific research?

We need to hear from consumers like you as the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) partner together on the future of research. Your experience could lead to the next research study to improve heart disease and stroke treatment.

As an advocate we’ve asked you to speak out for increased funding for medical research and you’ve answered by contacting lawmakers and sharing your personal stories as survivors, caregivers, and loved ones touched by heart and stroke disease. Now we invite you to share your experience, the decisions made in determining your or your loved one’s treatment plans and the factors that influenced those decisions. If we better understand your experience it can help guide the research that will lead to better care tailored to the specific needs of patients.

If you’ve had a heart attack, suffered a stroke, or you know a loved one who has, your unique understanding could help guide research to solve un-met care challenges faced by individuals like you and improve heart and stroke treatment.

Here are the details:

  • We are focused on un-met challenges faced by patients and caregivers like you. 
  • To join this challenge, you’ll be asked to provide a written submission of your first-hand experience after a heart disease or stroke event.
  • The story and description of the concerns you faced and the decisions you made should be personal and not a general case.
  • A team of scientific professionals and patient representatives with expertise in heart disease and stroke will review your story. Learning more about issues and concerns important to your decision-making can help them improve experiences and outcomes for patients in the future.
  • If your submission is chosen, you could win $1,000 and possibly help shape the future of cardiovascular research.
  • All submissions must be received by June 8, 2016.

Please take this important challenge and share your insights. Your story matters. Take the challenge today!

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Advocate Highlight - Craig Miller

My adventure with cardiac disease is not one that everyone reading this will experience. It's 2016 and looking back I truly feel like a survivor. I have had seven stents, one robotic bypass and suffered a Transient ischemic attack (TIA). 

I have had eleven angioplasties’ to either place stents or look at the status of my cardiovascular disease. In 2011, after suffering yet another event I was approached by UC Davis Medical Center to have a new robotic surgery procedure that is a less invasive bypass surgery. After the ten hour surgery was completed I was told that it took so long because there was a lot of scar tissue that made it difficult. Within six weeks I was ready to return to work as Operations Manager for an armored transport company in the Bay Area. My hours were long and the responsibilities and dangers were stressful. In July of 2011 I collapsed at work and they discovered the bypass had failed.  I was told that doctors placed a stent in the artery however it was just a matter of time before it would also be rejected by my body. I was told not to return to work and that I needed to avoid stress and over exertion all together.

Depression set in after being unable to work. I was given social security disability that barely covered the basic necessities. My family filed for bankruptcy and I knew our life needed to change.  My daughter and her family lived in Meridian, Idaho and my wife Sally and I decided that Meridian is where we wanted to go. We sold everything we could to new start and in December of 2011 we moved.          

Our move meant I needed to find a new cardiologist. After experiencing several cardiologists I was getting pretty good at knowing who fit me well. I found Dr. Bass at St. Luke’s and the first thing he suggested was to do an angioplasty to see what was going on so he could properly help me.  The angioplasty confirmed what the previous cardiologist had diagnosed, I had congestive heart failure. 

Dr. Bass felt that cardiac rehabilitation may help me and he was right.  The program of personalized exercise along with diet and heart education was making a difference, however my depression was not improving. Counseling was suggested and with the support from all of the wonderful health professionals I started feeling more positive. I realized that I had a choice; I could continue down my path of feeling sorry for myself or pick myself up and start over. I joined Mended Hearts Chapter 380 and found that by helping others I also helped me. 

In 2013, I was going to cardiac rehabilitation three days a week.  One morning as I got ready to go I felt out of sorts and by the time I got to “rehab” I was a little disoriented and very weak. As I walked into “rehab” I was approached by Amber an educator and RN. Amber saw that something was wrong and after evaluating me called for an ambulance because she recognized I was having a stroke. Amber saved my life because of her quick and knowledgeable reaction!

So here I am in 2016, the President of Mended Hearts. I have without a doubt the best people to work with, and can never thank my doctors, nurses, health professionals, family and friends enough.

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Advocate Spotlight - TJ Haynes

For TJ Haynes it was a matter of time. TJ recently threw out the first pitch at a Mustangs game in Dehler Park to promote the AHA’s Raise the Roof in Red campaign after suffering a heart attack just a few months before.

On May 25, 2015 TJ had gone to the local shooting range in preparation for the annual Quigley Buffalo Match. The days leading up to the 25th he had experienced heartburn and back pain but didn’t think much of it. But after a short period of time at the range he found himself short of breath and in pain.

He called his wife to tell her he wasn’t feeling well and asked her to come pick him up. While he waited another shooter at the range noticed his condition and quickly dialed 911 when he told them he was short of breath and experiencing chest pain.

Thanks to the quick actions of those around him TJ was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance containing a 12 lead EKG machine that sent a snapshot of his heart ahead to the Billings clinic. By sending this snapshot ahead the hospital was able to know what they were dealing with and how to treat it as soon as he arrived. This allowed his clogged artery to be opened just 46 minutes from the onset of the attack.

This amazing equipment had been installed just one day earlier as part of the Mission Lifeline initiative that is largely funded by a grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Today TJ is doing much better. He is in cardiac rehab, is working on his diet and is overall doing well.

TJ is thankful for the actions of those around him and the technology that was available to help him when he needed it most.


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Jocelyn Gomez

August 7th, 2015 was the start of the most life-changing event of our lives. My father, mother, and I were sitting in the emergency room that night waiting to be called on. As the minutes went by a tragedy was about to occur without even knowing. My father was at the emergency room for the pain he had on his left foot. His pinky was swelled up, bruised, and a very bright red mark was on the top part of his foot. 

That night my father found out he was diabetic when his blood sugar level was at 750. My father was already a survivor of three heart attacks and the news of him being diabetic was just another thing to add to the plate. Unfortunately, my father has a rare condition where he creates blood clots very easily. This became a massive problem to his foot. The pain was due to the lack of blood circulation and the different techniques that the doctor’s applied were just not enough. After the unsuccessful peripheral bypass surgery, there was no other option than to have an amputation below the knee.

Recovery is and will always be difficult because it is not only a physical recovery, but a mental recovery as well. His loving family and friends always surround him, which is a huge support. Today, my father is slowly adapting to his new lifestyle with a very optimistic attitude. Being diabetic has given him a different view to life and is thankful that he is still alive to tell his story.

My experience at the American Heart Association as an advocacy volunteer has been one of a kind. I’ve learned remarkable things and became part of a community that works very hard to prevent serious health conditions such as diabetes. Working on the SSB campaign has helped me gain more understanding on how much sugar we are consuming without even knowing. Avoiding sugar sweetened beverages and learning how to prevent health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes is extremely important. My father did not care much about his health until his unfortunate amputation. After this life experience, my interest in working in the public health arena has skyrocketed. Educating my own family on healthier choices to prevent any further health conditions is just the beginning. It is never too late to live a healthy lifestyle!

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Healthcare Expansion - What Almost Was

The 63rd Idaho State Legislature adjourned on March 25th, 2016. This means most legislators will go back to their districts to begin campaigning, and to discuss their accomplishments this session. However, the accomplishments for the session are tempered by the major issue they failed to address – the healthcare coverage gap.

When the 2016 legislative session started, we and our coalition partners had one goal – to get a bill introduced to expand healthcare to the 78,000 Idahoans who fall in the healthcare gap.  Getting a bill printed was something that we had not been able to accomplish in the prior three legislative sessions.

We are proud to say that we got much further this legislative session but sadly we were not able to close the gap this year. Significant movement was made on the issue in an effort to save lives, provide support to struggling families, and save the state millions of dollars. Nonetheless, on the final day of the session, all efforts to begin the process in Idaho were killed on a party line vote in the House.

Several bills were introduced throughout the session to address the healthcare coverage gap including SB 1205, the Healthy Idaho Plan, which allowed Idaho to seek a waiver to implement Medicaid expansion in a way that was unique to the needs of the state through a managed care plan, supported by Medicaid dollars. SB 1205 was heard in committee after a massive constituent turnout on the part of our Close the Gap Coalition efforts.

Story after story was shared about how the healthcare coverage gaps costs our state money and even more tragically costs people their lives. Despite all our efforts as session progressed it looked like we would not be able to close the healthcare coverage gap but then in the last few weeks of session two new bills were introduced on the issue, HCR 63 and HB 644.

HCR 63 would have formed a formal legislative committee to study and make recommendations regarding the gap population, and HB 644, which would have provided $5 million in grants to community health centers and collected data from these programs on the medically underserved gap population.

The final two days of session left us waiting with baited breath after the Senate amended HB 644 so that it would start the process of applying to the federal government for a Medicaid expansion waiver. After HB 644 was amended it was sent back to the House for approval. In the hours between the Senate returning the bill to the House Governor Otter publically supported the bill to start the waiver process.

Sadly on the last day of session and one of the last votes of the year the House voted to kill the bill down party lines. Instead the Speaker of the House has announced he will appoint a legislative committee to study the problem and present recommendations during the 2017 session. Frustratingly this means Idaho tax payers will pay for a fourth study when the first three recommended a full coverage solution like what the Healthy Idaho Plan would have provided.

For those of you who supported our efforts this session and throughout the year, we appreciate your time and support. We have not given up on this important issue. 

If you would like to get involved in our efforts to close the healthcare coverage gap contact Erin Bennett to learn more.

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AHA President Says: The Science is Clear on Sodium Reduction

Check this out! In a new video, the President of the AHA, Dr. Mark Creager, explains that the science behind sodium reduction is clear. He says that robust evidence has linked excess sodium intake with high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. And, he points out that you can do something about it: join AHA’s efforts to demand change in the amounts of sodium in our food supply.

“Nearly 80 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods” says AHA president Dr. Mark Creager. The video shows the 6 foods that contribute the most salt to the American diet: breads & rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches."

To see the video, head over to our Sodium Breakup blog!

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Idaho Youth Lobby Day 2016

Guest Blogger: Erin Bennett, Idaho Government Relations Director

The Idaho Division of the AHA / ASA hosted the 6th Annual Youth Lobby Day, on Thursday, February 4, 2016. In partnership with Voices for Healthy Kids, the Idaho Walk Bike Alliance, the YMCA, and others, over 75 students spent the day at the Idaho Statehouse talking to Legislators about Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS).

At the Youth Lobby Day, students connected with almost half of the Legislature to share the importance of SRTS, and how health and safety measures can be incorporated into all communities. Legislators joined students on walking meetings, and learned how different infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects can impact opportunities to be physically active. Students were recognized on the House Floor by Legislators, and in the many committee meetings they attended throughout the day.

The impact from Youth Lobby Day carried over into National Wear Red Day on Friday, February 5th when Rep. Gestrin, a recent survivor of quadruple bypass, spoke on the floor about how important physical activity is to taking care of your heart. He complimented the students on their efforts, and encouraged support for Go Red activities and other efforts that can improve heart health.

Overall, the 6th Annual Youth Lobby Day was a success, and Legislators continue to talk about the SRTS program and the students they had the opportunity to meet. We will continue to work on SRTS programs throughout the year, to help improve the safety and access of walking and biking pathways in all communities.

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Healthcare Coverage Gap

Guest Blogger: Erin Bennett, Idaho Government Relations Director

The Legislative session is still moving fast, with a number of important pieces of legislation still being discussed and debated. We have been working with a number of partners throughout the session to support legislation that will provide health care coverage to over 78,000 Idahoans who currently fall in the gap between Medicaid qualification and state health exchange subsidies. We need legislators to know before they leave Boise, doing nothing is not an option.

We know full health care coverage will help Idaho. It will help those people who currently don’t have health care of any kind from delaying treatment because of costs. It will help those with heart disease ensure that a medical complication won’t send them into poverty or crippling debt. It will help individuals obtain primary care and preventive services. It will also lower health care costs. It will make our health care system more cost effective and efficient. It will save tax dollars currently going to other states that have taken advantage of available federal funding for health system changes, dollars that can be used to stimulate economic productivity and improve Idaho’s health care system.

Above all, the reason we need full health care coverage is because it can save lives. Throughout the Legislative session we’ve been in contact with Legislators to tell them how important a full coverage solution is to all Idahoans, and we need to continue letting them know that we support a full health coverage plan. Full coverage saves lives, please continue contacting your Legislators to show your support.

Message state legislators today because doing nothing is not an option.

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Take the You're the Cure Advocate Survey

2015 was a great year for You're the Cure advocates and the many policy efforts that you work on. We have big plans for 2016, and we want to hear from you and what you want to see in the future for You're the Cure.

So take the survey now and let your voice be heard.

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