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Advocates Converge on Annapolis to Support Healthier Kids’ Meals

It might be cold outside, but things are heating up in the Maryland General Assembly! You’re the Cure advocates from across Maryland gathered in Annapolis on February 5 for the American Heart Association’s 2015 Lobby Day to support legislation to improve the nutritional quality of kids’ meals.

Advocates spent the morning enjoying a heart healthy breakfast and networking with legislators, staff, and partner organizations. Through displays, participants saw first-hand the amount of sugar that lurks in many popular drinks (18 tsps in a 20oz bottle of Mountain Dew!), and had the chance to experience what it’s like to carry around 10 extra pounds of weight.

The major focus of the day was on urging Maryland legislators to support a bill that would make restaurant kids’ meals healthier by positioning water, 100% fruit juice, and low-fat milk as the default beverages offered on dedicated kids’ menus. Many advocates had the chance to meet one-on-one with their legislators to educate them about the bill and the importance of making the healthy choice the easy choice in Maryland.

A big thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s event, and a special shout out to our wonderful event partners, The Maryland Chapter of the American College of Cardiology, the Women Legislators of the Maryland General Assembly, and Sugar Free Kids, Maryland.

P.S. If you missed this year’s event, you can still ask your legislators to support healthy kids meals by taking action here.






















<Special thanks to You're the Cure Intern Hannah Jones for help crafting this blog post> 


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Want To Make A Difference? Here's How!

With 2015 legislative sessions underway, it’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on ways that advocates can make a difference.

How Can You Make an Impact? Here are some examples:

Take Action (and make it personal): When you receive an action alert quickly take action! It’s important to respond when an alert enters your email box; often-times, they contain opportunities to reach out to your legislators on an important issue, and may involve a time sensitive committee hearing or legislative vote – so we recommend that you take action without delay! Don’t forget to let your legislators know why the issue is important to YOU in your communication - that is what they want to hear, why this issue is important to their constituents! Then take that next step, share the alert on social media, and encourage others to take action. Let your friends and family know what you’re up to – and that you’re saving lives with You’re the Cure.

Build the Relationship: Your local contact with lawmakers is critical to ensuring they have information about why issues are important to you and their district. You help draw the connection between state policy choices and local impacts. How can you do this? Think about which of your elected officials you may know – can you cultivate that relationship to make it stronger? Send a personal note with thoughts on the issues you care about. This can really get a lawmakers attention.  Request a meeting and work with your state Grassroots Director to identify others from your community to join (we suggest no more than 4) so that you can provide education on the AHA issues. Consider inviting your elected official to speak to your church or other civic group to share their insights on the policy process.

Above all, it is important to always be respectful, helpful, and clear about what your perspective is and how you hope your elected official can help. We are always available to provide you talking points and guidance.

Attend Advocacy Events: Your state advocacy team will offer trainings, both in-person and via teleconference, which provide a great opportunity to not only learn more about the hot button issues in your state and community, but also offer you the opportunity to meet other great advocates like yourself! Want to know if there is an event coming up in your state? Reach out to your state Grassroots Directors, Keltcie Delamar if you live in MD, DC, or VA or to Kim Chidester if you live in NC or SC, to learn more about what is going on in your area!

Update Your Profile: We want to send you action alerts about issues you want to hear about. Please take a moment and make sure to update your profile. Go to, log in to your account, and click on your name in the top right corner of the screen to access your profile information. Here, you can also select your interests on the "my interest" tab to make sure you are getting emails about the issues that are important to you!

In addition to indicating the issues you are interested in, you can update your contact information so we stay in touch.

Stay in the Know: Watch for our blog posts and updates—they are full of information about what is going on currently, and be sure to share on social media and comment when there is an opportunity. Be sure to stay in touch with your state Grassroots and Government Relations Directors. As your AHA staff partners, your Grassroots and Government Relation Directors are a resource to you and will help provide you with key information—so keep in touch!

Make 2015 the year when you take your advocacy work one step higher – pick one of the ideas and try it out! You will make a difference.

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Gail Mates

Gail Mates, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate

I spent most of my life watching heart disease strike family members. Both grandfathers died of heart attacks, my father suffered from several and even my mother had an enlarged heart and hypertension that made her susceptible. When my father had a stroke, I witnessed firsthand the depression and fear that he felt.  It was heart wrenching to watch.  

In my own life, health issues were mounting. High cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, sleep apnea, esophagus surgery and a metabolic syndrome were just a few of the hurdles I faced.   I was digging my grave with a knife and fork!
I knew my life was going downhill, but nurturing was something I did for others, not myself. It wasn’t until my daughter pled with me to make a change that I finally listened.  My daughter told me through tears that I was killing myself and that she wanted me to be here for her children.  

Diet was the first area I tackled. I began eating ‘live’ foods, shopping on the outside of the grocery store instead of the inner aisles of canned and boxed foods. Exercise came slower, but it was the pace I wanted to set because I knew that doing too much, too soon would backfire. I started with 5 minutes of exercise a week and was soon able to fulfill my dream of completing a 5k run. 

Almost 60 pounds lighter, I am changing my heart every step of the way. My diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, sleep apnea, and esophagus are all great now!   I don’t make excuses; I just do what I need to do.  If it’s snowing outside and I can't get to the gym, I simply walk around my living room and bedroom.  If you can make it easy, you can find a way.

There’s one thing that keeps me going – the smile on my daughter’s face.   I plan to be here for a long long time. 

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Thirsty for Change

With the 2015 Legislative Session well underway, the American Heart Association is working on an exciting campaign to improve the health of Maryland children.

As most parents are well aware, many restaurants offer menu items just for kids. Given the high rates of childhood obesity in Maryland, it’s important to ensure that kids’ meals include healthy options. Unfortunately nearly 80% of the top chain restaurants offer soda as the automatic beverage in kids’ meals.

Please join us in asking lawmakers to support a bill to reduce sugary beverages in kids’ meals.

Did you know that one 12-ounce orange soda has 12 teaspoons of sugar? That’s 3-4 times what the American Heart Association recommends a child consume in one day! Drinking just one 8-ounce sugary drink each day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60%. Obesity has a negative impact on nearly every part of our bodies, and it’s a risk factor for many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Obesity also leads to billions of dollars in financial costs each year. Today, 21% of all health care costs are due to obesity-related conditions.

While there are many factors that contribute to obesity, improving the nutritional quality of kids’ meals is one step towards turning this epidemic around. Studies show that people are more likely to select the item that’s listed on the menu rather than request an alternative. If kids’ meals include healthy beverages—like low-fat milk or water—then that’s what kids are likely to drink.

Please take action today to let your lawmakers know that you support healthy beverages in kids’ meals.

Listen to some inside scoop on why this effort is so critical:
















<Special thanks to You're the Cure intern Hannah Jones for help crafting this blog post>

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Meet the New Surgeon General

Dr. Vivek Murthy was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December to serve as the next surgeon general of the United States. The surgeon general is America’s top public health official, and his responsibilities range from managing disease to promoting prevention and a healthy start for our kids.

At 37, Vivek Murthy is the youngest person and the first Indian-American to hold the post of Surgeon General.

Since this position was created in 1871, just 18 people have held the job. Dr. Murthy, the 19th, replaces an Acting Surgeon General who has filled the role since 2013. Dr. Murthy’s confirmation was delayed for nearly a year due to political issues, but in that time he received the endorsement of more than 100 public health groups, including the American Heart Association.

Dr. Murthy has both business and medical degrees from his studies at Harvard and Yale. He completed his residency at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he most recently served as an attending physician. He has created and led organizations to support comprehensive healthcare reform, to improve clinical trials so new drugs can be made available more quickly and safely, and to combat HIV/AIDS.

His resume is remarkable, and we look forward to working closely with Dr. Murthy to improve the health of all Americans.

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MD Session Prep

We are getting ready to rumble!  We expect the 2015 MD General Assembly session to be eventful and productive.  Get a load of the issues we are preparing to work on, and join us, if you’d like, for a short call January 26th to learn details and how you can help.  RSVP for the Jan 26 Session call: 

Obesity prevention in children - Eliminate sugar sweetened beverages from kids’ restaurant menus and restrict meal-included beverages to water and low fat milk.  Soda, juice drinks, sports drinks, and other sugary drinks are the largest source of calories in children's diets, providing nearly half of children's sugar intake.  A Harvard School of Public Health study found that for each additional serving of soda or juice drink a child consumes per day, the child's chance of becoming overweight increases by 60%.  Reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption could go a long way towards fighting childhood obesity across the country and in Maryland.

Put your two cents in now to alert our legislators we need to solve this problem!

Significantly Increase Tobacco Excise Tax – Promote a 50% increase in the excise tax on cigarettes, raising the cost per package from $2.00 to $3.00.  Every 10 percent increase in the consumer’s cost of cigarettes reduces overall cigarette consumption by approximately three to five percent, reduces the number of young-adult smokers by 3.5 percent, and reduces the number of kids who smoke by six or seven percent.  An increase in the excise tax would be a significant step towards saving lives.

We may also be working to

- Promote sustainable healthy food and beverage vending policies and service standards in Baltimore City.

- Enact statewide standards for the formal designation of acute stroke ready hospitals, primary stroke centers, and comprehensive stroke centers consistent with American Heart Association criteria.

- Eliminate the tax on bottled water to encourage consumption of water over sugar-sweetened beverages.

Thanks for being by our side!  We couldn’t do this without you:  our You’re the Cure advocates work to support and advocate for public policies that will help improve the cardiovascular health of Americans and reduce deaths by coronary heart disease and stroke.   If our voice is loud enough this session, we can impact the lives of many Marylanders for many years to come! 

Click here to send your customizable letter to support healthier restaurant meals for kids now.


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Kendra Meiklejohn

Kendra Meiklejohn, Mid-Atlantic

My husband and I were so excited at the ultrasound to find out the sex of our second child. We had our son with us. We were joking and talking with the tech. She suddenly grew quiet. When the doctor came in and viewed the ultrasound, he was also very quiet. It didn’t really sink in until they told us, “There is something wrong with your baby’s heart.”

They couldn’t elaborate. They made an appointment for a fetal echo. We had to wait and wonder and worry for 4 days until we got her diagnosis. She had tricuspid atresia. One of her valves hadn’t formed so one ventricle didn’t develop. Without surgical intervention, most babies with this defect will not live to their first birthday.

We were terrified and worried, but also hopeful. I began to share her story to educate others. Before this time I didn’t realize that babies could have heart defects, but I learned that 1 in 100 are born with some sort of heart defect. It is the MOST common birth defect.

Iryl (rhymes with spiral) was monitored closely during my pregnancy. A birth plan was put in place for her. We toured the NICU and PICU at our hospital and we were scheduled to meet with the pediatric cardiac surgeon when Iryl decided to come early- at 34 1/2 weeks.

She was born via an emergency c-section.  She had a few other surprises for us, too. She also has sacral agenesis (no sacrum), heterotaxy (means differently arranged and usually effects the heart, intestines and spleen but can affect other visceral organs), asplenic, duodenal atresia (intestinal blockage) malrotation, pulmonary stenosis and atrial septal defect.

Despite all of this, she is amazing. She is currently 22 months and doing really well. We still check her pulse oximetry reading daily. This simple test, “pulse ox,” is what can save newborns with undetected congenital heart defects. The device is like a band aid with a light that measures the oxygen saturation. Most people have oxygen saturation near 100%. If a newborn’s is a lot lower, more testing needs to be done right away to check for critical issues.

This screening test is NON-invasive, it’s cheap and it’s quick. It can save lives. For as long as there are congenital heart defects, parents and the medical community need to do everything they can to save these kids. Pulse ox screening should be provided for every baby before going home from the hospital.


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You're the Cure Year End Successes, Let's Celebrate!
It was another banner year for You’re the Cure advocates championing heart and stroke policy change across the country. Year end is a time to look back at what we achieved in states, think ahead to the work still to do, and celebrate the power of volunteers.
What did we accomplish last year?
Below are just three of many victories that made 2014 so successful.  


  • 35 states now have laws protecting our littlest hearts. Pulse oximetry, a simple detection screening for heart defects gives newborns a chance to survive thanks to early detection.
  • We reached a major milestone in ensuring all students learn CPR before graduating from high school. Now more than 1 million students, in 20 states, will graduate each year with this lifesaving skill.
  • 6 states increased funding for heart disease and stroke prevention programs.


Want to see more accomplishments? Check out the video below.

These are just a few highlights and for the full story be sure to check out the state by state wrap-up online. We couldn’t achieve these great accomplishments without the power of YOU our advocates. Your work to educate lawmakers, recruit family and friends, and share your story and expertise are what makes change happen. So from your AHA staff partners a big, Thank You!
P.S. – You can help inspire others to join the movement by sharing our accomplishments highlight video.

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Paul Kearns

Paul Kearns, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate

Over twenty five years ago, I was working as a boat captain on the Long Island Sound. It was a beautiful summer day around dusk when someone collapsed near me on the dock I was operating. This man was turning blue, and after being frozen with fear I did the only thing I knew to do which was to run for help. After that, I never wanted to be controlled by indecision again and decided to take control by getting involved in my local emergency medical services service. It started me down a path that I still carry forward.

I am fortunate to be involved with such a great group of people from North Carolina. Their dedication, passion, and endless effort lead the way for our American Heart Association (AHA) Advocacy team. After dedicating my adult life to the service of others through medicine, advocacy allows me to carry this vision forward.

My days as a volunteer emergency medical technician and my hunger to learn more while giving back led me to a career decision to continue in EMS. After graduating with a degree in history, I worked in an emergency room while becoming a paramedic for the City of New York. For all that I tried, many of my efforts still could not make a dent on the disease and suffering that was around me.

During this time, I pursued many other areas of medicine. I spent years involved in research for a federal grant, Emergency Medical Services for Children, to advance safe environments and emergency medical care for children across the United States. Eventually I worked for a large health system on Long Island in the capacities of Performance Improvement, Education, and Research. After serving in this environment, my family decided to move to North Carolina in 2005.

In 2007, I had the great fortune to renew my involvement with the AHA by teaching Emergency Cardiovascular Care programs and promote public access defibrillation (AED) and CPR education. In 2008, I started with the Mid-Atlantic AHA Community Strategies committee. The direction of this committee was to assist and direct best practices in heart and stroke health in North Carolina.

During this time I was leading an effort to assist in AEDs in Schools, trying to ensure that every school had an AED and could use them in an emergency. I was told that there was an AHA staffer who was pursuing a similar initiative. That was my introduction to Betsy Vetter and the team of advocates. Where my initiatives had stalled, the advocates flourished. Betsy, without hesitation, invited me to join the Advocacy locomotive.

Since coming on board in 2008, so much has been accomplished: ensuring all high schools have AEDs, updating the North Carolina Good Samaritan Laws, promoting Heartsaver Heroes, CPR as a high school graduation requirement, AEDs and Emergency Plans in state buildings, and most recently our success in Newborn Pulse Oximetry testing. For all the accomplishments, so much more work is to be done. I look forward to all that we can accomplish.

With North Carolina as my family’s long term home, I want to do everything I can to encourage and assist our state to decrease preventable disease and increase the health of its citizens. With the AHA Advocacy team at my side, I have witnessed mountains moved.

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Your Special Power Moves Mountains

Do you know about your special power?

Advocacy is the use of your power to influence someone who can give you what you want.  As an American Heart Association You’re the Cure advocate you use the special power of your voice to influence lawmakers, and move mountains for thousands upon thousands by helping pass policies that save lives. 

Check out this quick rundown of the ways your special power can work….
Share your story – Your personal experience inspires others and helps an issue become real to the people you need to influence.  You can share with us here (we won’t publish it without contacting you for permission).

Put it in writing to your legislators – Our online alerts provide a written description of the issue you can simply click to send (or customize first).  Or you can give your voice even more punch by writing your own personal letter and sending via snail mail or email.

Make a call – the same information provided in our alerts serves perfectly as talking points to make a quick call, and often gets a lawmaker’s attention more keenly than a letter. 

Visit your legislator – Whether visiting in their home court (their District office) or on Capitol Hill, an advocate who takes the time to sit down and meet carries clout.  This how-to guide gives you easy steps to make it count.  Just be sure you make an appointment before going, and be willing to meet with a staffer if the legislator is not available.

Harness your network – Talk about us!  Share our alerts on social media after you’ve taken action on the website, forward our emails to your peeps and urge their help too.  Ask your friends, family and colleagues to sign up and add the special power of their voices to helping make change happen.

Write a letter-to-the-editor to educate the public about the policy issue.  See how here!  

Please tell your local Advocacy contact when you do these activities!  Our database tracks when you’ve taken action on an online alert to support the issue, or shared an alert, but these other activities must be self-reported or we’ll have no way of knowing.  Often we can provide talking points or tips to make them easier. 

There is more you can do, too, if you really want to ramp up your power, like writing blog posts for us, working with us to provide testimony or serve as a spokesperson on a policy issue you’re closely connected to, or helping represent us at events to recruit new advocates.  We can provide training to make sure you are prepared to do a good job.

However you choose to help, know that your special power is the real power we need to pass policies that save lives.  You’ve read this far, now resolve to be proactive in making your voice count:  

Help us move mountains! Ask your local American Heart Association advocacy staff for information to get you started.  Tell us how you want to help! 

(Our website can help you learn about AHA/ASA’s key advocacy issues and provide access fact sheets and advocate toolkits.)


<photo: Hunter Paulin, You’re the Cure advocate, shouting out to spread the word!>

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