American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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From the Bottom of our Hearts - Thank You!

National Volunteer Week (April 12-18) is right around the corner and we couldn’t let it pass without saying how much we appreciate all your contributions as a You’re the Cure advocate. It’s advocates like you who give their time, energy, and passion to help create healthier communities across the country.  We are deeply grateful for your commitment and talent as an advocate.

Since staff can’t always shake your hand and say thank you in person we’ve got a brief video to share. When you watch I am sure you too will be moved by all the great work happening in your states and communities and we look forward to more success in the future. Take a moment to check out the video and then encourage other to get involved and join in the fun.

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Share Your Story: Sneaky Salt

Sneaky Salt

Become an advocate in our fight against sneaky Salt! Say NO to the higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other health problems linked to too much sodium.

Did you know that most Americans eat more than twice the American Heart Association’s recommended amount of sodium? Chances are, that includes you—even if you rarely pick up the salt shaker. Salt is sneaking up on us—mostly when we go out to restaurants or eat packaged foods. Check out this fun new 1-minute video to see for yourself:

This excess salt puts us at risk for elevated blood pressure which means an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Stand up for your health and pledge to reduce your sodium intake today! Take the pledge here: Don’t stop there…Encourage your family and friends to take the pledge, too.

Want more info? Check out our new website,, for a quiz, infographics, recipes and more. Thank you for standing strong against "sneaky Salt!"

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Share Your Story: Jeannie Roberson

Jeannie Roberson Kansas

Sometimes Jeannie Roberson has to pinch herself to remember this is her new life. A healthy, happy, active, non-smoking life. It’s a complete turn-around from her lowest point six years ago struggling to breathe in the shower.

"That morning I didn’t know what was happening to me," Jeannie says. "My breathing went from bad to worse and my doctor sent me to the hospital right away. I had pneumonia and was showing signs of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). My doctor said if I didn’t stop smoking I would need oxygen for the rest of my life. I decided, right then and there, I was too cute and too young to haul around an oxygen tank. I quit cold turkey during my five days in the hospital."

Jeannie’s husband, Sean, was also a smoker. They decided to be successful long-term they both needed to quit. Learning the facts about tobacco withdrawal symptoms and reminding each other to think logically helped the process.

"It may sound funny, but we focused on the numbers," Jeannie says. "Sean knew he was going to have a cigarette craving about every three minutes. The goal was to get through those cravings for three days when our research showed the nicotine levels in his body would begin to decrease. We kept building on our goals. The next step was getting to three months without smoking. It wasn’t easy. But we kept plugging away together."

The couple felt great about their new smoke-free life. But Jeannie started to gain weight after she quit. She toyed with the idea of working out, but had never done it before. Her parents were both smokers and her dad died of lung cancer. Exercising was foreign to her.

Jeannie decided to start small by simply joining the YMCA in Wichita, Kan., and walking around the track. Eventually, she worked up to the elliptical machine. The more she worked out, the better she felt. Breathing became easier. In fact, Jeannie improved her lung function by 40 percent. Instead of displaying COPD symptoms, she now just has asthma – a palpable difference she feels with every breath.

"My resolve to quit smoking and the YMCA saved my life," Jeannie says. "The mind and body connection is powerful."

Jeannie now serves as the membership services coordinator at the same Wichita YMCA where she began exercising.

"When I quit smoking, it was like mourning the death of a friend," Jeannie says. "I had turned to cigarettes for 21 years when I was stressed, happy or sad. Thankfully I got over it and gave the ‘new me’ a chance. I’m never going back. I’m blessed to work at the ‘Y.’ Everything in my life has brought me to this point. I’m exactly where I need to be."

Every year in Kansas, 4,400 adults die because of their tobacco addiction and about 3,000 kids become smokers. Jeannie is currently working with the American Heart Association and Kansans for a Healthy Future to help in the fight to save lives in Kansas through tobacco prevention.

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Smokers are a Heart Attack Waiting to Happen: Cathy Porter's Story

Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Slowly and deliberately a cigarette gives smokers immediate satisfaction.

Now picture that swirl of smoke upon exhale creeping around your body and taking hold, like a tight hug. It grips your heart and won’t let go – literally squeezing the life out of you.

Unfortunately Cathy Porter, age 61, can relate all too well. She smoked at least a pack a day for 20 years. It caught up with her the day before she turned 45. She was in Manhattan, KS, watching her 12 year-old son, Denver, participate in Odyssey of the Mind (an academic problem-solving competition). During a lunch break at a local diner, she thought she had severe heart burn and turned lightheaded.

“I instantly thought to myself, ‘This can’t be a heart attack. I’m too young. I don’t have pain in my arm. Plus, I’m a woman,’” Cathy says. “I had no idea that heart disease in the leading killer of women, and I was almost one of them because I smoked. Nicotine has power over those who use it. Everyone knows there are serious consequences to smoking but thinks, ‘It won’t happen to me.’ Guess what? It does.”

Cathy’s heart attack was caused by a “crack in the plaque.” Hard and soft plaque attaches to the lining of arteries. Sometimes smokers’ soft plaque can pull away from the lining, causing a tear that bleeds. In Cathy’s case, the blood backed up into her heart resulting in her heart attack.

“It’s an absolutely terrifying experience,” Cathy says. “In the hospital I didn’t want to go to sleep because I wasn’t sure if I would wake up. All I could think of were my two kids. I could not leave them. I quit smoking right then and there because I was too scared of dying.”

Follow this link to read more about Cathy's story on the Kansans for a Healthy Future Website

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Share Your Story: Jennifer Caribardi

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: Rob Shipley

Rob Shipley Kansas

On March 20th 2013, Rob Shipley was enjoying a game of basketball with his 13-year-old son Bennett, when he started feeling light-headed, short of breath and went to sit down.  This was unusual for Rob as he was an active 40-year-old that enjoyed biking, running and taking spin class at 5:30 every morning, even during spring break!

“Something just wasn’t right that day,” explains Rob.  “I got up to enter the house, reached for the screen door and immediately passed out.”

Bennett immediately ran into the house to alert his nine-year-old sister Maris and mom Stacy, who immediately called 9-1-1.  “At that point I was conscious and really didn’t think that was necessary,” says Rob.
As Stacy and the kids looked on, EMTs worked quickly to take his vitals.  Rob says “I remember feeling helpless as I lay on the floor porch looking up at my family and the look of worry and fear in their eyes.”
Suddenly, Rob had a sudden cardiac arrest and emergency responders followed with three unsuccessful rounds of CPR and used an automated external defibrillator (AED). “My wife quickly led the kids to a different room and they started praying; they thought it was the end,” Rob says.

The AED successfully re-started Rob's heart and EMTs got him stable enough to take him to the nearest medical facility.  Tests indicated that Rob's aortic valve was nearly non-functioning (very little blood flow through the valve).  Doctors later said that Rob's survival was providential, explaining that with such a valve problem, seldom is someone brought back from cardiac arrest.

Less than two days later, Rob had open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve and spent the next week in the hospital followed by six weeks recovery at home.

As an active father, community leader and counselor at Manchester Park Elementary School in Olathe, Rob continues to enjoy life with few restrictions.  He had always led a very healthy and active lifestyle, so the doctors have recommended that he continue on the same track.  His only restrictions?  To not lift more than 25 lbs. 

When asked, why him?  Rob doesn’t have an answer.  He knows heart disease runs in his family and therefore he is more susceptible, but he had no other risk factors for heart disease – all of his numbers are within normal range including blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, glucose, amount of exercise and dietary intake.

Rob concludes, “So if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.  Know the risk factors AND warning signs for heart disease and stroke.  You never know when and if it’s going to hit you or someone you love, so you might as well be prepared.  AND, while you’re at it, learn CPR… could be saving the life of someone you love!” 


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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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Share Your Story: Zach Haney

Zach Haney Kansas

As a child I was interested in entrepreneurship. I loved spending time creating business plans and connecting with local professionals. During my freshman year of high school, I created an organization called Teens Taking Action; an organization that strives to inspire and empower young leaders. Continuing to follow my entrepreneurial spirit, I also created a party rental company which helps clients plan a full scale carnival or corporate event. The Carnival Guy was born during my sophomore year of high school. This past summer, I was named One of America’s Top 5 Young Entrepreneurs from the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Hence, I was extremely busy and didn’t have time for heart problems. In addition, I was 16, how could anything be wrong?

It was the night before my last day of my sophomore year. I was getting ready for bed, when my heart started beating rather quickly. This was something I had never experienced before. 

Being a 16 year old, I decided not to tell my parents and tried to "sleep it off". Upon waking up the next morning, my heart felt exactly the same. So I visited the school nurse before class. My pulse was recorded at nearly 170 beats per minute. The nurse called my parents and they came to pick me up from school and took me to the hospital where my heart rate had risen to 270 beats per minute. Unfortunately, the pediatric cardiologist was not available so I had to wait for a few hours with this uncomfortable pounding in my chest.

The doctors seemed nervous and quite honestly, all I wanted to do was cry. With my heart continuing to beat at such a high rate we began to get worried that I could develop a stroke or damage the heart muscle. I was referred to Children’s Hospital in Kansas City where they ran tests to get an understanding of what was causing my fast heart rate. The initial diagnosis was atrial fibrillation, something found primarily in elderly patients. Later, it was determined that I do not have Afib, but have similar symptoms.

My cardiologist recommend that I have cardiac ablation surgery. A procedure that corrects heart rhythm problems. This took place during my senior year of high school and I must admit I was scared, but I wanted my heart to be well.

After the procedure I never had an episode like the one my sophomore year. Unfortunately, I still experience similar symptoms. My heart’s resting rate is near 110 beats per minute. If I begin to engage in physical activities, such as running or walking up the stairs, my heart assumes I am ready to start running a marathon. So instead of gradually picking up the pace, my heart will jump to 160 beats per minute quickly. Sometimes this can cause me to feel lightheaded to the point where I fall over.

While my heart problem still exists, choose to stay positive. Every day I tell myself that I want to live a long, happy, and healthy life. I keep myself busy by running a business and going to college, but I take the time, out of my busy schedule, to focus on my health and heart.

If I can leave someone with any advice it would be, always remember to laugh. Take the time to find the joy in life every day. As Proverbs 17:22 puts it, "A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing".


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61,000 Kids is Why

While the state of Kansas wrestles with finding a solution for its current deficit, we know there is a popular and life-saving way to raise some much needed revenue for the state – an increase in the tobacco tax.

Kansans for a Healthy Future (K4HF) is a coalition formed around the singular mission of tobacco prevention. The American Heart Association along with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Inc., the American Lung Association, the Kansas Health Foundation, the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition, Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition to name a few are proud partners of this effort.

We know smoking is still a problem in Kansas – 19.4 percent of adults and 10.2 percent of high school students smoke. Tobacco kills more Kansans than alcohol, homicides, car accidents, AIDS, illegal drugs and suicide combined.

TAKE ACTION – Join the movement! Do you have an interest in tobacco prevention? Have you, a family member or someone you know been personally impacted by tobacco use? Follow this link to reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you! 

Now's the Time! 
Kansas has not raised the cigarette tax in over a decade and the tax on other tobacco products has never been raised since its inception in 1972. At the same time that tobacco products are inexpensive, our health outcomes are declining and it is time to reverse this trend. An increase in tobacco tax is one of the best proven ways to stop kids from picking up the deadly habit and to encourage current smokers to kick the habit.  

Increasing Kansas’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack, with a parallel increase on other tobacco products, would raise nearly $113 million for the state. It could also save the state $196 million in long-term health care costs. Most importantly however, an increase in the tobacco tax would save lives! It would prevent an estimated 61,000 kids from becoming addicted adults and would result in a 20 percent decrease in youth tobacco use.

Our success depends upon your participation and willingness to break through the chatter of competing issues and make tobacco prevention a priority!

Stay tuned on other ways you can help!

Christy Dreiling
Regional Grassroots Advocacy Director

61,000 kids is why

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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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