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How fate brought together three stroke survivors' families

The following article about You're the Cure advocate Ryley Williams and two other youths who survived strokes on the same day was published by AHA CEO Nancy Brown in the Huffington Post on July 6th, 2016. A link is provided at the end of the story.

In the community of Dartmouth in the Canadian province Nova Scotia, Nik Latter’s family is throwing what his mom promises will be “a big ol’ party.” Fist bumps and hugs will celebrate the fact he’s made it an entire year since his devastating July 8th.

One by one, over each of the last three July 8s, Ryley, Amber and Nik suffered a stroke. Yet the oddity of their shared date is only part of what led their moms to create a de facto support group.

What really brought them together is that Ryley, Amber and Nik were — and still are — teenagers.

Ryley was 15 and devoted to becoming the starting nose guard on his varsity football team. Amber was 13 and loved playing softball and hanging out with the two girls who’d been her best friends since kindergarten. Nik was a few days shy of 18 and had left school to work at a restaurant; he’d bought a car and aimed to become a voluntary firefighter following that upcoming birthday.

Now, well, their dreams are different.

As we approach July 8, the families allowed me to share their stories to send an important message: Stroke can attack anyone at any time.


Ryley Williams went into the summer following his freshman year at Bentonville (Arkansas) High with one goal. He wanted to draw the attention of the varsity football coaches.

So he ran and lifted weights. He ate six meals a day, devouring only foods that would expand his 6-foot, 242-pound frame the right way.

“Honey, you’re never late, you make good grades, you don’t cause any problems — trust me, the coaches notice you,” his mom, Terri Rose, told him. “They just won’t tell you they notice you.”

The morning of Monday, July 8, 2013, Ryley went to an indoor field for football practice. He was stretching when he grabbed his leg and collapsed. Everyone thought he’d pulled a muscle and overreacted. Then they realized there was more to it.

At the hospital, a brain scan showed a bigger problem than the facility could handle. He was flown by helicopter to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. It wasn’t easy fitting someone his size into the chopper.

When they landed, seizures began. Off he went for an MRI. Looking at the results, the doctor pointed to five spots.

“This is a stroke, this is a stroke, this is a stroke, this is a stroke and this is a stroke,” the doctor said. “We need to find out why he has so many blood clots in his brain.”

Around 3 a.m. Wednesday, they still didn’t know why. And now they had a new problem. Ryley’s brain was swelling.

He underwent an operation to remove part of his skull. With Ryley sedated, doctors also took a closer look at his heart. They found hair-like strands of a bacterial infection on the outside of two valves. A-ha! This was the source.

Next question: How much brain damage had he suffered? His right side didn’t function. Doctors cautioned he may never walk or talk.

As Ryley was coming out of his medically induced coma, some football players visited. Coaches, too. They brought a varsity jersey with his number, 99.

“The head coach drove down to Little Rock and stayed with us when Ryley had the skull surgery,” Terri said. “Other coaches came to visit, too. They told us they were watching him. They knew he was going to have a big year. Hearing that was bittersweet.”

Fast forward to today.

His right arm remains compromised. He also battles aphasia, a condition that sometimes makes it hard for him to get words out. Still, Ryley recently graduated high school, right on time. He even spent the last year working at a Walmart Neighborhood Market. And he’s become an advocate for the American Stroke Association. Last year, he and Terri encouraged a Congressional subcommittee in Washington, D.C., to support more funding for research and awareness about pediatric stroke.

He’s spending this summer at a facility that specializes in neuropsychology recovery for victims of strokes and traumatic brain injuries. He’s learning skills to live on his own, although he plans to spend two years at home while attending Northwest Arkansas Community College.

“He’s incredibly positive,” Terri said. “He’s accepted everything. He tells you, `This is who I am now.’”


The night of July 8, 2014, Amber Hebert was on first base when the next batter hit the ball to the outfield.

Amber ran to second base without anyone trying to get her out, then fell as if she’d been punched. She vomited and went into a seizure. Her 5-foot-3, 86-pound body thrashed so violently that four firefighters held her down while a fifth injected her with medicine.

The local hospital in Bellevue, Nebraska, ended up sending her to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. The seizures continued until 3 a.m.

“When she finally stopped seizing, she was able to see and talk and understand you,” said her mom, Tirzah Hebert. “But I could see the fear in her eyes.”

Tests — and seizures — continued throughout the next day. Finally, doctors declared she’d suffered a stroke.

The next day, Amber sat in a chair holding a cup and walked around her hospital floor. The following day, she had a bit more difficulty holding a cup but could still walk. That night, Tirzah asked if she understood what had happened.

“I don’t know,” Amber said.

The next day, a Saturday, Amber couldn’t walk, talk or hold up her head. This continued until Tuesday, when she finally underwent an MRI. It showed that her brain was swelling.

Doctors were able to reduce it with medicine. Then came the waiting game to determine the extent of brain damage. Soon, she began smiling and communicating with her left hand — fist for yes, open palm for no.

These days, Amber walks, but sometimes the toes on her right foot curl, causing her to drag her foot.

She can’t move her right hand or wrist. She also has aphasia. Therapists believe that with practice she’ll improve in every area. (Doctors never determined the cause of her stroke.)

Alas, there have been other obstacles.

Shortly after Amber made it home, her dad’s dad — with whom she was very close — died of cancer. Four months later, a lump in her dad’s neck was found to be cancerous. Early detection plus chemotherapy and radiation helped him beat it.

School proved no refuge. She went from being one of the most popular girls at school to getting bullied. Her two lifelong best friends “just disappeared,” Tirzah said. Amber switched to homeschooling until giving the classroom another try this summer.

“She’s a happy girl, for the most part, very loving and caring,” Tirzah said. “She still has some depression, but who wouldn’t? To have your life completely turned upside down like hers has?”


Even as a child, Nik Latter struggled with migraines. So, last June, when he had one that was bad enough to go to a hospital, nobody thought much of it.

Nor did anyone think twice when he left work complaining of a migraine on Sunday, July 5, 2015.

The next day, he endured what he described as the worst migraine he’d ever experienced. He wore sunglasses indoors and had his mom, Rhonda, drive him to a clinic. The next day, he slept at his grandparents’ house because it was quieter than being home with his two younger sisters.

Rhonda visited him Wednesday, he stared blankly. He tried talking, but nothing came out.

“He’s having a stroke,” she declared. “Call 911!”

A scan showed a mass on the right side of his brain. During an operation, doctors determined it was a stroke. Days later, it was determined the cause was a sinus infection gone severely wrong. The infection broke the barrier between the sinus and the brain, releasing a blood clot.

Nik’s recovery started great. He gave hugs, pulled his mom’s hair and played thumb wars with his sisters. Then, in the early hours of July 16, he had another stroke. On the other side of his brain.

Doctors said Nik may not survive. But the family wanted to give him every chance. Their faith was rewarded when he was weaned off the breathing tube.

He continued clearing hurdles, although he remained hospitalized until March. The long struggle seemed to deflate him; being home reinvigorated him. He now puts his right foot down and pushes his wheelchair. He fist bumps with his right hand, laughs, smiles and kicks.

He makes sounds and, sometimes, says words. Not enough to say he’s talking. But he’s trying.

“He’s very aware of his surroundings,” Rhonda said.


While each stroke story is different, every stroke shares similarities.

Time lost is brain lost. The sooner the stroke can be recognized, the sooner treatment can begin. The gold standard of treatment is called tPA. If this clot-busting drug is administered within three hours, and up to 4.5 hours in some cases, the extent of recovery can improve drastically.

That’s why the American Stroke Association urges everyone to remember the acronym FAST. When you see Face drooping, Arm weakness or Speech difficulty, it’s Time to call 911.

Stroke is the No. 2 killer worldwide and No. 5 in the United States. While it’s true that strokes usually happen to older people is true, Ryley, Amber and Nik are proof that’s not always the case.

The world of pediatric stroke is small enough — and the pull of the internet is strong enough — that families of survivors are bound to find each other.

For instance, Terri connected with Lea Chaulk, a Canadian mom whose son was about the same age as Ryley and had a stroke about the same time. Terri and Lea became like sisters as they helped their sons grieve over the lives they lost and learn to embrace their new reality. Lea later introduced Terri to Rhonda.

Meanwhile, Ryley got to know four teenagers from the Kansas City area who were featured by American Heart Association News after they overcame strokes during high school to graduate on time. One of those families had gotten to know the Heberts, and they connected Terri and Tirzah.

The three moms — Terri, Tirzah and Rhonda — lean on each other often. They’ve yet to meet in person, although Ryley and Amber have shared messages via Facebook.

“Knowing that I’m not alone has helped soooo much,” Tirzah said.

“If I didn’t have some of these moms, I think I’d go insane,” said Rhonda, laughing. “Sometimes I sit down and get lost in thought and get upset. Then I’ll send one of them a message saying `I need you to bring me back down to Earth.’”

Three families irrevocably altered, all on a July 8. It’s incredible. Yet from this coincidence comes strength.

“I’ve told my family, `Look, it happened to two other kids on the same day,’” Tirzah said. “It’s like, Wow. And we’ve all made it this far. And you know what? We’re going to keep on going.”

Read the rest of the story on the Huffington Post.

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Advocacy Volunteers Needed for Upcoming Indiana Heart Walks

Heart Walk season is upon us once again!  The Advocacy Department is looking for 2-3 volunteers for each of the upcoming Heart Walk events (see below). We will need help throughout the day collecting petition cards and recruiting new advocates for the You’re the Cure network.

If you are interested in volunteering for one of the Heart Walks listed below, please email Jason Harder at with your full name and cell phone number. Please make sure to include the event title in your email.  We'll follow up with you soon!

Date Event
9/10/2016 Indianapolis Heart Walk
9/17/2016 Lake County Heart Walk
9/24/2016 Fort Wayne Heart Walk
9/24/2016 Porter County Heart Walk
10/1/2016 St. Joseph County (Michiana) Heart Walk
10/22/2016 Lafayette Heart Walk

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Find the Heart Walk Near You

The Heart Walk is the American Heart Association’s premier community event, helping to save lives from heart disease and stroke. More than 300 walks across America raise funds to support valuable health research, education and advocacy programs of the American Heart Association in every state. Our You’re the Cure advocacy movement – and our public policy successes along the way – are all made possible by the funds raised by the Heart Walk. Whether it’s CPR laws passed to train the next generation of lifesavers or policy to regulate tobacco products and prevent youth smoking,  together we are building a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The Heart Walk is truly a community event, celebrating survivors, living healthy, and being physically active. We hope you’ll join us and visit the site today. If there is not a walk listed in your area soon,  it may be coming in the spring season or you can join a virtual event. And don’t forget to connect with your local advocacy staff and ask about your local Heart Walk day-of You’re the Cure plans - they may need your help spreading the word. Thanks for all you do, and happy Heart Walk season.

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Study: Increasing number of U.S. adults living with congenital heart defects

According to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, more adults are living with congenital heart defects in the United States, creating the need for more health services and tracking systems to collect data across all ages, not just at birth. 

A new study estimates that about 2.4 million people – 1.4 million adults and 1 million children – were living with these medical conditions in the United States in the year 2010.  Nearly 300,000 of them had severe heart defects.  Compared with the estimates for the year 2000, these figures represent a 40 percent increase in the total number of people living with congenital heart defects in the United States and a 63 percent increase among adults. 

Click here to read more!

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Help Protect PE for Kids Like Me!

Guest post from Reagan Spomer, 6th grader Alliance for a Healthier Generation Youth Advisory Board Member & You’re the Cure Advocate

I have two words for you… scooter hockey.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  That’s because it is!  Scooter hockey, along with cage ball and 3-way soccer are some of my favorite activities in gym class, which I have a few times a week.

I’m glad I have physical education for a number of reasons.  It keeps me active and teaches me to try new things.  It helps me focus on my school work.  It relieves my stress.  And most of all, it makes me feel great! 

But I know a lot of schools don’t have regular PE like my schools does.  That means a lot of kids are missing out on the benefits of being active during the school day.  I think this needs to change.   

Will you help?  As part of the nationwide campaign to protect PE in schools, Voices for Healthy Kids has created a photo petition map to show how many people across the country love PE like I do.  As people share their pictures, the map will change colors.  I’ve added my “I heart PE” photo for South Dakota.  Will you do the same for your state?  It’s really easy:

  1. Print an “I heart PE” sign (or make your own!)
  2. Take a picture of yourself holding the sign.
  3. Click on your state to share your photo.

Thanks for helping to protect PE for kids like me!

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Join us at the Indiana Healthy Food Access Policy Forum

You’re invited to join partners and advocates from across Indiana this month to discuss food deserts, food insecurity, innovative community solutions, and potential public policy for the 2016-17 legislative session.


Event details:

Indiana Healthy Food Access Policy Forum

Thursday, June 23, 2016

10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Ivy Tech Corporate College and Culinary Center

2820 North Meridian Street

Indianapolis, IN 46208

Rooms 119 and 121


Full agenda will be sent to participants prior to the event.  Please visit this link to register:



Event will include a presentation by the Food Trust: Making Healthy Food Available to All


Since 1992, The Food Trust has been working to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food and information to make healthy decisions. The Food Trust's comprehensive approach includes improving food environments and teaching nutrition education in schools; working with corner store owners to increase healthy offerings and helping customers make healthier choices; managing farmers' markets in communities that lack access to affordable produce; and encouraging grocery store development in underserved communities.



This FREE Policy Forum is brought to you by the Indiana Healthy Food Access Group:

American Heart Association

Feeding Indiana’s Hungry

Green Bean Delivery

Hoosiers Farmer’s Market Association

Indiana Healthy Food Access Group

Indiana Healthy Weight Initiative

Indiana Minority Health Coalition

Indiana State Alliance of YMCAs

Indy Food Council

Top 10 Coalition

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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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Be a featured advocate!

Each month in our newsletter, we highlight one of our great American Heart Association volunteers or survivors.  We always need new stories to feature - can you help?

If you'd like to be featured in our monthly newsletter and on our website, please send an email to and let me know!  You can check out what others have shared by visiting:

Want to help?  There are three things we need:

1.  The story.  We will have room for a short paragraph.  There is no story too small and everyone is welcome to submit their experience.  We want you to make your story grab the attention of people who come to the site.  Be passionate.  Explain how your experience has impacted your life and why you are committed to helping us advocate.

2. A picture.  Yes, we’ll need your best photo we can post so that everyone will see that there is a real person behind the story.

3. Your permission.  This is the boring part.  If you’d like to be featured on the website, I’ll send you a form that has to be filled out and returned.

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Share Your Story: Wilda Evans

Wilda Evans Indiana

Wilda Evans realized the importance of heart health as a young girl as she watched her father suffer a series of heart attacks five years apart.  “When my father was in his 70s, the doctors told him he had the body of a 50-year old. He was fit and healthy, except for his heart” Evans said.  “My mantra became: There are a lot of things that I may not be able to control regarding my health, due to genetics and the environment, but there are things I can do so that I’m not increasing my risk. Eating healthy, diet, exercise, not smoking.”

Evans began supporting the American Heart Association during the years following her father’s first heart attack and has continued to advocate for the organization over the years. She has participated in the Indianapolis Heart Walk almost since the event’s inception 25 years ago.  “My mom also had heart failure and a series of strokes, and her father died of a massive stroke the week before I was born. I’ve also had some cousins who have died too young,” she said of her family history of heart disease and stroke.

Most recently, Evans’ family dealt with a stroke two years ago. Evans’ son-in-law was brushing his teeth when he became disoriented and unable to speak. Fortunately, Evans’ daughter was in the next room and immediately recognized he was having a stroke. Within 30 minutes, he was being treated with clot-busting drugs at the hospital.

“There have been so many strides and advancements over the years, and I continue to support the AHA because of the valuable work being done. Without support, there would be less funding for research and education. The upcoming generations need to know that it’s important to keep their hearts healthy.”

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Share Your Story: James Young

James Young, Michigan

Winter season 2011, will forever be a reminiscence of what eventually became a diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure.  There I was, after a snow storm, shoveling a path down the sidewalk when I began to cough up, what I thought to be phlegm. However, after taking further notice behind me, as I continued to shovel snow, it was actually a trail of blood.  I'm sure some would instantly go into shock, panic, and drive themselves to the nearest emergency room.  Not me.  Instead, I kept shoveling that snow and when done, I went inside, where it was warm, took off my winter coat and accessories, made some hot cocoa and enjoyed the next few hours of YouTube video surfing.  Big mistake.

As Spring chased away the bitter cold and introduced sunshine, not only was I still coughing up blood but now my couging had worsened to the level of coughing convulsions -- especially when I laid down at night.  I could barely hold a conversation with anyone because once I opened my mouth to formulate words, my coughing would interrupt that attempt.

Because of my high acidity diet that included a high beer consumption on a regular basis, I would develop gout in my feet.  These gout attacks would become more constant and frequent as time went on.  Gout tends to cause inflammation and swelling around the big toe and around the ankles of the feet.  Ultimately, my "Band-Aid" attempts of taking Motrin proved to be non-beneficial and my gout flare ups became immune to the medication which caused me to limp a lot and, at times, not even able to put on my shoes.  I would also have to walk with my grandfather's cane, just to get around.

As summer came into view, I would awakened in the mornings and vomit, on top of the lingering coughing attacks that, at this point, were so strong, I would have to brace myself to prevent falling to the floor that's how strong my coughs became.

In terms of my heart, its beating patterns were so rapid, it felt as if I ran a marathon - just sitting.  One could actually see my heart beating out of my chest.

One day, my sister, out of much concern, convinced me to go see my doctor.

My first visit, I was given a full physical and placed on high blood pressure medications. In addition, my doctor gave me some other prescription medications that no human could possibly decipher into the English language.

The medication did very little in bringing about any normalcy in my condition so my doctor thought to perform an EKG.  When those results came back I was strongly encouraged to return to the doctors office immediately for the news.

Congestive Heart Failure was the diagnosis.  CHF is a chronic condition in which the heart doesn't pump blood as well as it should.  Still not quite understanding what those three words truly meant, she then hit me with kidney disease, pneumonia on my lungs, fluid retention, and an enlarged heart. Possibly because of the heavy medication I was under, I took all the news rather lightly and unconcernedly.  I had no idea how badly of a state my health was in. 

After several additional visits to the doctors office, which became weekly visits, this one visit was the tipping point.  My mother drove me to this appointment because by this time, I couldn't drive myself, due to the heavy medication I was under.  When we reached the reception area, I found it very difficult to get settled in a chair, I began to feel warm and my nerves were all over the place.  I told my mother I was going to step outside to get some air.  Unbeknownst to me, my mother and my doctor found me standing in the center of the parking lot, head tilted to the sky, trying my best to inhale air. 

My doctor yelled at me to get to emergency immediately.  I complied and found my self admitted.  During my almost two week stay, I was told that at 40 years of age I was the youngest person in the unit.  The cardiologist informed me that if I had waited another week, I would have died.

Laying in the hospital, confined to bed as a fall risk, I had no other choice but to reflect on my life, what I had done to myself, and if given another chance, what I would do differently...if I had another chance in my immediate future to change.

After my initial release I found myself back in emergency due to the fluid retention in my legs not subsiding.  After being released seven days later I began having regular visits to a cardiologist which terrified me with his ending comments into his handheld voice recorder.  Those last words were "...Patient James Young...if we do  not see improvement in his condition within the next 30 days, we will proceed with defibrillator implementation.

Let's just say, I used the next 30 days as if they were my last!  I stopped drinking alcohol, sodas, fast foods, minimized my cigarette smoking significantly and remained faithful to the Lasix medication regiment.  In less than a month, I was under 200 lbs. (195 lbs.) from 270 lbs.  I had another physical as well as an EKG on that day.

The results were delivered in the mail and the first thing I see is a personally drawn happy face with the words "Good Job James" next to the happy face.  After reviewing the results with my doctor she made one last comment that stuck with me.  She said "you have become responsible."  She went on to add, "you have overcome a condition that thousands of individuals suffer from everyday and your job in this second wind in life, it is important to share your triumph and give others the same hope that they too can CHANGE!"

So here I am today, still no alcohol consumption, done with cigarettes, and soda is a distant memory.  I am now able to do upwards of 10 miles on the track.  And to top it all off, I'm not longer on prescription medication.

If I can lend any advice, I had to learn to love myself MORE than my bad habits.  I had to deal with what was eating me before I effectively tackled what I was eating and putting into my body that was literally killing me.  Now, life is GREAT!!

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