American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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The American Heart Association's Go Red For Women Red Dress Collection 2015 Livestream

Join us for this exclusive virtual event where top designers and celebrities demonstrate their support for women's heart health during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Heart disease is not just a man's disease. Each year, 1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke. We can change that--80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. Help break barriers against heart disease and stroke by joining us for the Go Red For Women Red Dress Collection 2015 live online at on Thursday, February 12 at 8 p.m. Eastern. See you there!

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Heart attack care initiative expands to Iowa with $4.6 million Helmsley grant

The American Heart Association announced that it has received a $4.6 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to support the AHA’s Mission: Lifeline initiative in Iowa.

"This is a great day for rural health in Iowa, and especially for heart patients and their loved ones," said Kevin Harker, executive vice president of the AHA’s Midwest Affiliate. "Thanks to the vision and generosity of the Helmsley Charitable Trust and our other contributors and collaborators, we will be able to better coordinate heart attack care across the entire state, which will mean better outcomes for patients and more lives saved."

Launched in 2007, Mission: Lifeline works to improve coordination between local hospitals and EMS providers to shorten the time to lifesaving treatment for patients who have a type of heart attack called ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI).

Hundreds of thousands of Americans each year experience STEMI, in which blood flow is completely cut off to a portion of the heart. The more time it takes to open the blocked artery, the more damage is done to the heart muscle.

In rural America, the vast landscape and sparse healthcare resources have made it difficult to deliver fast treatment to STEMI patients.

"Mission: Lifeline ensures that the community, EMS providers and the health system are integrated and work seamlessly," said AHA CEO Nancy Brown. "Through Mission: Lifeline, we’re working to change the fact that 30 percent of STEMI patients don’t receive treatment. Of those who receive [artery-opening treatment], less than half are treated within the recommended 90 minutes."

The Helmsley Charitable Trust has provided funding in recent years for other Mission: Lifeline initiatives in South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota, Nebraska and Montana. This latest contribution for Iowa brings the Trust’s total Mission: Lifeline commitment to $36.8 million.

Nationally, Mission: Lifeline includes 835 hospitals, clinics, EMS agencies and first responders that cover nearly 83 percent of the U.S. population. Recognized Mission: Lifeline systems of care can be found using a nationwide map.

"We are seeing improved patient outcomes from Mission: Lifeline implementation," said Brown. "When everyone involved works together to do what’s best for the patient, everyone wins, because lives are saved."

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Share Your Story: Ms. Jennifer Caribardi

Ms. Jennifer Caribardi

As a registered nurse, and the Director of Critical Care Services, Jennifer was highly skilled in treating stroke patients. Yet when she herself showed clear signs of a stroke, she refused to believe it.  “I am too busy for this to happen,” she thought as her symptoms mounted. “I have to work. This can’t be happening to me.”

Jennifer was 58 and led an active life. She fell into the trap of thinking stroke is something that happens to other people.  “We can all be fooled, go down the ‘river of denial,’ ” she said. “Strokes happen to everybody, from babies that are in utero all the way out. And I know that intellectually. But there’s a difference between intellectually knowing something and emotionally being able to apply that to yourself.”

Jennifer is a no-nonsense, wisecracking mother of six grown sons. She’s a widow who loved her demanding, high-stress job handling the most urgent cases.  In retrospect, there were signals that she was starting to run ragged.

On June 9, 2012, she danced with son No. 4, James, at his wedding. In photos, she looked happy but “pretty haggard.”  Six days later, she was at home, working on a quilt, when she noticed that the pattern — orange oak leaves — made her feel dizzy. It might have been a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a “warning stroke.” These can be a sign of an impending ischemic stroke, the most common kind of stroke, in which a blood clot obstructs a vessel leading to the brain.  Jennifer thought little of the episode. She went to bed, rose early the next morning and headed to work.

She was making her usual rounds when suddenly her vision went askew. The room seemed to be moving.  “I really wanted to kind of lean against the wall and just lie down to the floor,” she said.
Jennifer recently had switched blood-pressure medications, and she assumed that wooziness stemmed from her pressure being low. In fact, it was “sky high.”  When her staff asked if she was OK, Jennifer insisted she was. Luckily, they refused to believe her. Even more fortunate, she already was in the ICU of her hospital, which is designated a Primary Stroke Center by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.

“They didn’t take the fact that I was the boss who was telling them, ‘No, I just need to go to my office,’” she said. “They didn’t allow that to happen.”  As her team worked to bring down her blood pressure, Jennifer lost the feeling on her left side. She had the telltale sensation that her face was falling off. She realized she couldn’t speak.

But timing is essential in stroke care, and Jennifer’s symptoms were diagnosed soon enough for her to receive an IV treatment called tPA ,which helps dissolve the clot and restore blood flow to the brain, greatly enhancing the chances of a strong recovery.  “Getting my blood pressure down took a while, and I almost missed the window for tPA,” Jennifer said. “And I am so glad I didn’t, because what residual I have, nobody notices.”

Being the driven person she is, Jennifer went back to work only two weeks after her stroke.  “Way too early,” she said. 
A pivotal moment came about eight months later, when she was on the phone at 2 a.m. with a chief nursing officer from another hospital, helping troubleshooting a problem about organ donations. She realized she was exhausted.  “It wasn’t even my own hospital, and I’m losing sleep,” she said. “And I didn’t need that. That was kind of like that ‘a-ha’ moment.”

To preserve her health, she switched roles, becoming the Core Measures Specialist, making sure guidelines are followed and teaching other nurses what she knows.  More importantly, Jennifer – now 61 and 2 ½ years removed from her stroke – is free of serious long-term neurological damage. Since her stroke, she’s also had four stents placed in her heart; she began having chest pains after the event, although doctors are unsure whether the cardiac issues are related to the stroke.

“I’m one of the very lucky ones,” she said. “I’m a lot blessed, because I was at the right place at the right time, with the right protocols in place. But it could have been so much worse. If it hadn’t been for a very proactive staff … they saved me from having a lot of damage.”

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Share Your Story: Iowa Newborns

Iowa Newborns Iowa

Iowa joins a growing list of states that are requiring hospitals to screen newborns for congenital heart defects using pulse oximetry.

The state’s new regulation requires all Iowa hospitals to use the test, screening more than 27,000 babies each year.

Pulse oximetry is a low-cost, highly-effective and painless bedside test that looks for life-threatening heart defects that might otherwise go undetected. It can be completed in as little as 45 seconds at less than $4 per baby, according to the American Heart Association. It tests blood oxygen levels using sensors placed on a newborn’s hand and foot.  Read More.


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Meet Doug Chew!

My name is Doug Chew and I'm a survivor and an advocate for the American Heart Association's "You're the Cure" community. I'm writing a blog about myself and my work as an advocate with the hope that something I say or do will save a life. I'm also hoping that you'll reach out to me about how you can help further our mission to build healthier lives free of heart disease and stroke. There's no better feeling than working with others to make a difference in people's lives. I will share a story about a life that was saved through advocacy, but first let me tell you a little more about myself. 

On Christmas Day of 2007, I was walking around Gray's Lake in Des Moines, ignoring an odd ticking sensation I had felt, when suddenly I grabbed my chest, unable to breathe, and my body went into a fetal position. For the longest minute of my life, I thought this is what it feels like to die. No more hopes or dreams, just this vise-like pressure on my chest. Luckily, after that minute, shallow breaths returned and my hopes and dreams once again had substance. My road to recovery included open heart surgery, and cardiac rehabilitation. One of my nurses was named Ann: she is part of the story.

For the past two years, I have worked with others to pass legislation to require the testing of all newborns for critical congenital heart disease. I have heard mothers speak of heart wrenching battles to save their child's life. I heard pediatric cardiologists speak to the efficacy of a simple, inexpensive test with a pulse oximeter that could detect a defective heart in newborns and allow for immediate, life-saving treatment. I added my presence and my voice whenever asked to urge the quick passage and implementation of this life-saving legislation. We were successful. Lives will be saved. 

And now the rest of my story. A few weeks ago I was working out at my local YMCA which is affiliated with Mercy Health (where I had my open heart surgery and cardiac rehab). For the first time in almost 8 years I saw Ann, who was still working with heart patients, and reintroduced myself. I told her of my work with "You're the Cure" and our success with legislation to test for newborn heart defects. She then told me her niece had recently given birth and the newborn was given the pulse ox test. A heart defect was found and the child was able to receive immediate treatment. That is one life that now will have hopes and dreams. I know there will be others.

Well, that's my story! As the Advocacy Team Leader for congressional district 3, I want to know more about each of you. Do you have a personal story that you want to share? Do you want to get more involved with our efforts to create a more heart-healthy Iowa? We welcome people who share our passion to make a difference. Let me know. I'd love to chat with you about ways you can get involved. You can reach me at

I look forward to working with you in the upcoming legislative session and beyond. Together we make a difference!

Thank you for your time,

Doug Chew

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Neha Aggarwal, You’re the Cure Advocate

One day while he was walking through the park, Neha Aggarwal’s maternal grandfather suddenly fell to the ground—he had unexpectedly suffered a stroke. Before the stroke, her grandfather had been very active mentally, physically, socially, and professionally. Although the stroke dramatically changed every aspect of his life, he continued to step up to the challenges of life and showed great strength and positivity.  He passed away 20 months later, and Neha feels she was blessed to have had the chance to know and love him.

But her family’s history of stroke and heart disease doesn’t end there.

  • Her paternal grandfather also passed away from a stroke, before she was even born.
  • Her father’s older brother passed away from a heart attack.
  • Her father, a cardiologist, has diabetes and takes medication to control high blood pressure and cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

Neha’s family history and life experiences have prompted her to aim for a heart healthy lifestyle.  She strives to make exercise and a heart healthy diet a part of her daily life.

Involvement in You’re the Cure:

Neha first became interested in volunteering with the American Heart Association’s (AHA) grassroots network, You’re the Cure, in 2012 when she heard about AHA’s Lawyers Have Heart run in Washington, DC. This event really called out to her, as she is not only a lawyer but one who specializes in health policy. Lawyers Have Heart seemed as if it were created for her, aligning with both her passion for law and for health. Volunteering at this event in 2012 kicked off her involvement with You’re the Cure and she has been an active advocate ever since.  

What She Does:

Since Neha became a You’re the Cure advocate in 2012, she has volunteered at a number of events in Washington, DC, including Heart Walk, Lawyers Have Heart, and Hearts Delight. She actively recruits others for You’re the Cure. Her passion for the mission of AHA is contagious and inspires others to join in this important work. As Neha became more deeply involved with AHA events, she wanted to do more.

She was energized when she discovered the opportunity to work more proactively with You’re the Cure, advocating directly to her lawmakers for policy change. This exciting world of policy change opened the door for her to more fully utilize her education, passion, and training in volunteer advocacy work.  Neha initiated regular communication with AHA staff to coordinate her efforts, and her work on You’re the Cure’s advocacy campaigns has been packed with meaningful action. She has had frequent contact with DC Councilmembers, via phone calls and emails, urging them to support important legislation. Recently, she also submitted a letter to the editor to encourage readers to follow her call to action and appeal to DC Council.

What she finds most satisfying about working with You’re the Cure is the strong impact that she can have at the macro level. “Getting legislation passed can have such far-reaching effects! It is exciting to do things that have a large-scale impact. I feel like I am making a difference.”

 Why does Neha do this?  She says, “Improving Lives is Why”

Have you volunteered for the AHA like Neha? Send us photos of yourself in action to We will use as many as we can to create a new Facebook cover photo!

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Save the Date - 2015 Iowa Legislative Breakfast!

Join us for our annual 2015  Legislative Breakfast! Stop by anytime between 7:30 AM—9:30 AM to introduce yourself to your lawmakers and enjoy a heart healthy breakfast!

We will have information so you can learn more about our newest issues and we will also provide you with materials you can give to your lawmaker to help us educate them and ask for their support.  Breakfast is included and there is no cost to attend but advance registration is appreciated.

What:  2015 Iowa Legislative Breakfast
When:  Wednesday, January 14, 2015 from 7:30am - 9:30pm
Where:  Iowa State Capitol Building, First Floor Rotunda - East Wing, 1007 E Grand Ave., Des Moines, IA 50319

Click on this link to RSVP today!  Plan to be there the entire time or just stop by on your way to work! We look forward to seeing you there!

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Share Your Story: Iowa's Sweethearts

Iowa's Sweethearts Iowa

The American Heart Association Sweethearts are high school girls who actively participate in a program designed to teach them about heart healthy lifestyles and the prevention of heart disease through education and volunteerism. Through the Sweetheart program, these young ladies learn that heart disease is the number one killer of women.

During their tenure as Sweethearts, they focus on the goals of the American Heart Association and how to implement them on a daily basis in their lives. Each month, the Sweethearts participate in both educational programs and volunteerism with the assistance of many local sponsors and the American Heart Association.

View the Sweethearts Program 2014-2015 calendar.

In addition to these requirements and equally as important, Sweethearts are interested in learning about their community, volunteering their time, making lifelong friends, and learning about “heart” health. They serve as representatives of their families, schools, peers, and the American Heart Association and as models for good behavior, ethics, and moral standards.

As a fundraiser for the American Heart Association Des Moines Heart Ball, Sweethearts will help fundraise throughout the course of the program. While Sweethearts, they also earn community service/education hours each centered around learning more about becoming advocates for heart health in their generation.

Sweethearts are invited and selected on a first-come, first-serve basis. Young ladies who are interested in becoming participants in the Sweetheart program should contact the American Heart Association at 515-265-4567 .

Applications can be submitted online at 


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Life is Why

I carry a picture with me in my portfolio of a little boy I met at a Heart Walk last year. His name is Colton, and by the age of 9 when I met him, he’d already endured five heart surgeries, suffering a stroke during the last one. That’s a lot for anyone to go through, let alone a child not yet a decade old!

As the father of three boys, I can only imagine the anxiety his parents felt, having to hand their baby boy over to doctors to open his chest…five times. I’m sure every precious moment they’d spent with him flashed through their minds, giving them strength and comfort, reminding them why they had to take these extreme measures to fix Colton’s heart: they wanted more memories with him. Simply put, Colton is why.

The American Heart Association wants every family to experience more of life's precious moments too. It's why we've made better heart and brain health our mission. And until there's a world free of heart disease and stroke, we'll be there, working to make a healthier, longer life possible for everyone. Why we do what we do? Life is why.

Everyone has a reason to live longer. For me, it’s watching my sons play sports. It’s our family’s recent vacation to the Pacific Northwest. It’s the time I’ve gotten to share with my Mom after she survived heart disease. My family is why.

What is your why? Check out more Life is Why moments at Share your photos on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #lifeiswhy and let’s motivate each other to keep living healthier, stronger lives.

Warm regards,

Kevin D. Harker
Executive Vice President, Midwest Affiliate

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Share Your Story: Scott Sanborn

Scott Sanborn Iowa

As the anchor of a morning TV news show in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Scott Sanborn had to be an early riser. In hopes of getting in some exercise before work, he set the alarm clock even earlier and hopped on his wife’s glider at 1:30 a.m.

Within a few minutes, he felt pain in his chest. It came and went, so he continued working out. This happened three times before he gave up and headed to work. A few minutes before his shift, as Scott was putting on his makeup, a colleague noticed he didn’t look well. Scott admitted he’d felt chest pain that morning. Asked if he wanted to go to the hospital, Scott figured everything traced to having gotten up early and being stressed.

His 2-hour program went fine. The pain, however, resumed as soon as he went off the air. So Scott went outside for a smoke. "When I tell this story, I feel like an idiot," Scott said. "People sometimes can’t believe how stupid I was."

For about five years, Scott’s body had been trying to tell him something was wrong. A longtime smoker who regularly fell off the exercise bandwagon and paid little attention to what he ate, Scott rarely saw his doctor. So he didn’t have any idea that he had high cholesterol and prediabetic.

Then 46, his job was stressful, in part because of the hours. Rare was the night he got more than six hours of sleep. There were other signs, too. Whenever he’d play basketball with his kids, or take on rigorous yard work, his chest would tighten. Yet he dismissed it because whenever he’d take a break, the pain would stop. "I was in complete denial," Scott said.

The morning of his ongoing chest pains, Scott pored through medical encyclopedias to determine what may be causing them. He decided it could be a hiatal hernia and figured he’d call a doctor later. A heart attack never crossed his mind. When his wife came home and Scott shared what happened during the day, she urged him to go to the hospital. Again, Scott refused, but agreed to call the doctor the next day.

At 11 p.m., the pain in Scott’s chest was so intense it woke him up. "It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest," he said. "Then, I knew something was drastically wrong." Scott’s wife called 9-1-1 and an ambulance soon arrived to take him to the hospital. A catheritization procedure found an artery 90 percent blocked. Doctors used a balloon procedure to fix the artery and installed a stent, a mesh-like tube, to clear the blockage. "As soon as they opened me up, I felt immediate relief," Scott said.

In the recovery room, doctors gave Scott a binder of information produced by the American Heart Association about what had happened to him. "That’s when I learned that I was in major denial about my lifestyle," he said. He read everything he could, consulted extensively with doctors and made up his mind to make immediate changes.

"I remember my kids coming into the hospital room and I could see the fear in their eyes," Scott said. "I hate to sound melodramatic, but that’s something you never want to experience as a parent and I felt terrible."

Scott stopped smoking and shifted to a low-fat, high fiber diet. He also started exercising, walking at least 30 minutes every day. He eventually lost 50 pounds and got his blood sugar and cholesterol back into healthy ranges. As he learned more about the prevalence of heart disease – it’s the No. 1 killer in America, affecting about 1 in 3 adults – he decided to use his role as a news anchor to help others learn from his mistakes. "I learned that 80 percent of heart disease is preventable," Scott said. "Most people can control their lifestyle and avoid heart disease. I’m a prime example of what can happen if you don’t."

Seven months after his heart attack – November 2002 – Scott spearheaded a five-part series on his experience and a half-hour special on heart disease. The show included a panel of experts taking calls from viewers.The outpouring of support, calls and letters from community members who credited Scott with opening their eyes to their own risks was both humbling and rewarding. "I had one woman call and tell me that while watching the program, her husband realized he had been suffering from angina and they went to the hospital and got a stent," Scott said. He threw his energy into sharing his story in the community, speaking at local events and volunteering for the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk event for about five years before pulling back to a less public role.

Scott’s recovery ended up being more complicated than expected. He was one of a small percentage of stent patients who develop restenosis—a condition in which scar tissue around the stent builds up, creating another blockage. About every three to six months, Scott returned to the catheterization lab for another stent or brachytherapy, which burns away the scar tissue. Nearly three years later, after receiving six stents and two brachytherapy procedures, Scott underwent triple bypass surgery.

Scott’s ordeal was chronicled in a second five-part series that ran in spring 2005. After taking a step back from public advocacy roles for heart health for a few years, Scott has jumped back into a more active role when it comes to raising awareness about heart health, sharing his story in a public service video and emceeing this year’s local Heart Ball.

He credits the AHA for giving him the information that helped save his life, enabling him to enjoy his wife, their six grown children and 15 grandchildren. He also wants to help others better understand the lifesaving changes they too could make. "I’m probably in better shape now, at 58, than I was in my 30s," Scott said.


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