What is your WHY?
My WHY is my children and future generations.
What brought you to be an advocate for the American Heart Association?
In 2008, I had my fourth stroke, which was misdiagnosed originally, until I refused to leave the hospital. Further testing was conducted due to the refusal to leave, and a PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale) was discovered, along with a blood clotting disorders (Protein C & S Deficiency). At that moment, I had a real live immediate positive reinforcement from an act of advocacy for myself. My sister, who was living in Chicago, connected me to the American Heart Association office in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area and the rest is HISTORY!
What issues or policies are you most passionate about and why?
As a former Arizona Tobacco Tax Commissioner, I must say tobacco policy as it relates to Heart Disease and Stroke is my passion. Heart Disease and Stroke due to the use of tobacco is preventable. Policy that addresses cessation and prevention is cutting edge policy in a society in which big tobacco is really creative about pushing newer tobacco products. For example, the use of hookah pipes, selling delusional ideas that hookah smoking is not as damaging, when in fact, one sitting of hookah smoking is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes at once. Not only to mention that we really don’t know what’s in hookah tobacco, as it is not regulated in regards to ingredients. Another example of the craftiness is the push behind the cigar sub-culture as a status measurement for men and a measurement of strength for women. Tobacco is tobacco, smoke is smoke, and smoke causes injury to the blood, heart, cardiovascular system, and the lungs.
What is your favorite advocacy memory or experience so far and what made it great?
My most favorite advocacy memory so far was my most recent federal advocacy activity in September of 2015 in Washington, D.C. To move back to the state of Illinois, be here under four months and be asked to represent the people of state of Illinois for the National Institutes of Health Rally for Medical Research Day on the Hill has by far become my most favorite. I have lobbied in Washington, D.C. for the American Heart Association as a resident of Arizona before, but what made this experience special is the number of elected officials I was able to touch in one day with the sharing of my story and making the human connection as a 6-time stroke survivor to Illinois Members’ of Congress was phenomenal. As an advocate since 2009, I have learned to respect the position of advocacy on every level, and of being able to impact policy in the United States as our nation’s founders intended.
On September 17th, American Heart Association joined the American Association for Cancer Researchers (AACR) to advocate for NIH funding. Advocates from both organizations from around the country met with their legislators and spoke about the importance of funding medical research. American Heart Association advocate, Tawanda Johnson-Gray from Illinois met with several Illinois lawmakers including Congressman Mike Quigley, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Senator Richard Durbin, and Senator Mark Kirk. Many thanks to Tawanda for giving a voice to the countless numbers of heart and stroke patients around the country!
What is your favorite way to be active?
Yoga. It is my favorite because it gets my heart rate up, but it also helps me quiet my mind.
What is your favorite fruit?
My favorite fruits are Pineapple, Watermelon, and Pomegranate. My favorite vegetable is Romaine Lettuce.