American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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Tina Lakey, Madison

This month our Advocate Spotlight story features Tina Lakey of Madison.  Tina currently serves as the chairwoman for the Circle of Red Committee in the Metro Jackson area. Circle of Red is a society of women who have the passion, the motivation and inspiration to drive and influence change in the community regarding heart health of women in their community and across the country.

Occupation: District Director, CenterPoint Energy

How long have you been a volunteer with the American Heart Association and in what capacity?  I have been an engaged volunteer over the past several years, and last year I became a member of Circle of Red. This year, I am serving as the chairwoman of Circle of Red. I have served on the Executive Leadership Team for Go Red for Women for the the past 2 years.

Who or what inspires you to help and volunteer your time to the work of the American Heart Association?  My husband had a stroke 24 years ago and this made us painfully aware of what can happen when we do not take care of our bodies. We did try to exercise and eat healthy, but probably should have done more.  Now, since I have learned so much through volunteering, I want to not only make sure my family is making healthy choices, but I want help get the word out in our communities of the importance of making sure everyone chooses a healthy lifestyle.

What heart healthy issue is most important to you and why?  Stroke Awareness-my husband suffered a stroke at the age of 31.

What are two ways you keep yourself healthy? Exercise and eating right.

How is your community healthy that makes you proud?  Over the past several years, many new fitness centers have opened in our city, giving more opportunity for residents to make sure we are working out and exercising to keep our bodies fit.

How do you stay updated on current public policies in your state? American Heart Association bulletins, going online and searching information.  Also, I receive informational emails from the Metro Jackson American Heart Association staff.

If you could help advocate for one change in your state, what would it be and why? Our schools and work places make healthy choices by what they allow in vending machines

Do you have a favorite American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association event you annually attend?  What is your motivation to participate? Go Red For Women….working with a group of dynamic men and women who see the value in educating our communities on what we need to do ‘kill’ heart disease!

Have you attended a state or federal lobby day on behalf of the American Heart Association?  If so, please briefly explain your experience.  I have not, but would like to.

What have you learned in your time being a You’re the Cure advocate?  The absolute importance of being aware, staying updated, and making others aware of the importance of making the right choices when it comes to getting checkups, eating right and exercising.

Why would you tell a friend or family member to join You’re the Cure?  To help save their life!

Tell us one unique thing about yourselfI love to write.  I am in the process of writing a children’s book on bullying.

Guest Blogger: Tina Lakey, pictured far right accepting the National Wear Red Day Proclamation at the Mississippi State Capitol in February.

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National Walking Day Proclamations Across Mississippi

National Walking Day is held every year on the 1st Wednesday in April.  The American Heart Association kicks off a month-long celebration designed to help us all become more active. On the day of the event, participants are encouraged to lace up their sneakers and take 30 minutes out of their day to get up and walk.

Three cities in Mississippi signed a National Walking Day proclamation this year in support of bringing awareness to the importance of daily physical activity among their residents.  These cities included: Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, and Pass Christian. 

Elizabeth Williams, resident of Pass Christian, as well as, an American Heart Association employee accepted the proclamation in Pass Christian last week during the city council meeting.  "I've lived in four other states besides Mississippi, and I can confidently say that Pass Christian is the most walkable community I've lived in.  I love the opportunity to safely walk with my family from my home to anything we may need or want.  It's not unusual in a week's time to walk to the bank, post office, coffee shop, library, park, or beach.  We really have no excuse not to get out and walk in our beautiful city.  I'm so thankful to live here."

Marlo Tipton, Jackson County Regional Director for the American Heart Association, put together a community gathering on National Walking Day for residents of Pascagoula.  Everyone met at Lighthouse Park on the Environmental Trail during their lunch break and walked for 30 minutes. 'It was a nice awareness event to get people out of the office and up on their feet to emphasize the importance of daily physical activity and its countless benefits.  Physical activity not only gets your blood flowing and heart racing, it has also been shown to improve your mood, Tipton mentioned.

To become involved next year in National Walking day, visit our National Waking Day webpage.  If you would like your city or town to participate in a National Walking Day proclamation next year, please email:

Pictured: Marlo Tipton, American Heart Association's Jackson County Regional Director and walkers who participated in the City of Pascagoula's Walking Day event on April 6.

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AHA President Says: The Science is Clear on Sodium Reduction

Check this out! In a new video, the President of the AHA, Dr. Mark Creager, explains that the science behind sodium reduction is clear. He says that robust evidence has linked excess sodium intake with high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. And, he points out that you can do something about it: join AHA’s efforts to demand change in the amounts of sodium in our food supply.

“Nearly 80 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods” says AHA president Dr. Mark Creager. The video shows the 6 foods that contribute the most salt to the American diet: breads & rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches."

To see the video, head over to our Sodium Breakup blog!

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The healthy difference a month can make

March is Nutrition Month, and a perfect time to get more involved with the AHA’s ongoing efforts to promote science-based food and nutrition programs that help reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Every day, we’re seeing new initiatives: to make fruits and vegetables more affordable; to reduce the number of sugar-sweetened beverages that our kids are drinking; and of course, to ensure students are getting the healthiest school meals possible, all with the same goal: to help families across the country lead the healthiest lives they possibly can.

It’s also a great opportunity to lower your sodium intake. The average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day – more than twice the AHA-recommended amount. Excessive sodium consumption has been shown to lead to elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Visit for tips on to lower your intake and to get heart-healthy recipes.

However you choose to celebrate, Nutrition Month gives us all the chance to take control of our diets; to recommit to eating fresh, healthy foods; and to remember all month long that you’re the cure.

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Jan Collins, Madison

Our 2015-16 Mississippi Advocacy Committee is composed of 12 individuals from across the state with different occupations, who have a great interest in advocating for policy change for heart-health issues. Throughout the year, we will introduce some of our members. Today, we'd like you to meet Jan Collins of Madison.

Occupation: Executive Director of the Madison County Business League & Foundation

How long have you been a volunteer with the American Heart Association? Three years

Who or what inspires you to help and volunteer your time to the work of the American Heart Association? I attended a Go Red For Women luncheon and was touched by the personal stories of survival and the success of the American Heart Association's efforts.

What heart-healthy issue is most important to you and why? Raising awareness among women of the warning signs of heart attacks and stroke, and how they differ from men’s warning signs. My mother, father and mother-in-law all died of heart disease and my husband was diagnosed with two blocked arteries before his death in a car crash.

What are two ways you stay healthy? I try to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle by working out and regularly exercising. I also have routine check-ups with all of my physicians and specialists.

In which way is your community healthy that makes you proud? My organization has worked closely with the American Heart Association and partnered with the Mississippi Tobacco Free Coalition of Madison, Yazoo and Holmes Counties to pass smoke free ordinances in all four municipalities in Madison County!

How do you stay updated on current public policies in your state? The mission of my organization is to unite the leading business owners, CEOs, presidents (decision makers) with elected/appointed officials on all levels from local to the Miss. delegation in D.C., to discuss topics that affect economic development such as healthcare, education, infrastructure and quality of life issues.

If you could help advocate for one change in your state, what would it be and why? It’s cultural in Mississippi. Our diet of food that we have grown up on. Our mothers and grandmothers cooked it! But we love it. We must educate the public to break the cycle!

Do you have a favorite American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association event you annually attend? What is your motivation to participate? The Go Red For Women luncheon and all the Circle of Red events! I like to be informed so I can utilize my position to educate my family, friends and relatives.

What have you learned in your time being a You’re the Cure advocate? That the American Heart Association plays a more prominent role in advocating for healthy heart issues than the business community and public could ever imagine!

Why would you tell a friend or family member to join You’re the Cure? We have all been touched by heart disease of a family member, friend or co-worker. Be informed so you can be committed to eating and living a healthy lifestyle, if not for yourself, for your children and family.

Tell us one unique thing about yourself. I am a cancer survivor! I have cancer and heart disease in my immediate family.

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Mississippi Will Now Require Nutritious Snacks in Schools

The Mississippi Department of Education will now require snacks sold at school to meet the same nutritional standards as breakfast and lunch. The education department voted and passed the rules on Feb. 18 that will apply to any foods sold either in vending machines or a la carte in the lunch line to the state’s 490,000 public school students.

Grain-based products must be at least 50 percent whole-grain. Other products must have fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as a first ingredient. Fewer than 35 percent of calories must be from fat, and the rules limit sodium, sugar, caffeine and total calories.

Junk food fundraisers — like doughnuts, pizza and candy — are also out the door in Mississippi.


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Take the You're the Cure Advocate Survey

2015 was a great year for You're the Cure advocates and the many policy efforts that you work on. We have big plans for 2016, and we want to hear from you and what you want to see in the future for You're the Cure.

So take the survey now and let your voice be heard.

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Claire Hick, Southaven

Our 2015-16 Mississippi Advocacy Committee is composed of 12 individuals from across the state with different occupations, who have a great interest in advocating for policy change for heart-health issues. Throughout the year, we will introduce some of our members. Today, we'd like you to meet Claire Hick of Southaven.

How long have you been a volunteer with the AHA and in what capacity?  I’ve worked for the past five years on our team, fundraising for the annual Heart Walk. I’ve recently taken a more active role this year organizing a larger fundraising event at our hospital.  This is my first year serving on the Mississippi State Advocacy Committee.

Who or what inspires you to help and volunteer your time to the work of the AHA?  I see first-hand the great work the AHA does as an organization to save lives. Most recently, we partnered with the AHA putting red hats on babies born on National Wear Red Day in February. The hats were an education for new parents that the AHA’s advocacy successfully lobbied to pass legislation to check all babies born in our state for congenital heart conditions before leaving the hospital. Through the media, the new law was also publicized in several area newspapers with the red hat baby photos to educate the public.

What heart healthy issue is most important to you and why?  Sudden cardiac arrest is a more important issue to my family and I. Seven years ago, we lost our nephew to sudden cardiac arrest because an AED wasn't used on him in the less than the seven minutes that is recommended. Since then, our family has raised funds at an annual event and placed more than 50 AEDs in public buildings, churches and sports venues in our area. Since installation, many of the AEDs have been used to save lives.

What are two ways you keep yourself healthy?  My husband and I play tennis, and we are starting to teach our three-year-old son to play. On days we can’t make it to the courts, we enjoy spending time together in our backyard. 

How is your community healthy that makes you proud?  Our city, Hernando, has won multiple awards recently for promoting family health.  They’ve added walking trails, resurfaced tennis courts, rebuilt playground equipment, organized scavenger hunts, built bike trails and held community walk/runs. Our mayor, Chip Johnson, has been the driving force to make Hernando a healthy city. My employer, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Desoto, is also a partner in the effort and has been the presenting sponsor for H.E.A.L. (Healthy Eating Active Living). This is an annual 10-week partnership created five years ago, that gives incentives to families for getting healthier, offering free weight-loss coaching, daily exercise classes and heart risk assessments. 

Recently, I accepted proclamations on behalf of the American Heart Association in Southaven and Hernando for National Wear Red Day and National Heart Month. (See included pictures).  I'm proud of both of these cities where I work and live.  It's encouraging to see them moving in the right direction of being more heart healthy.  

How do you stay updated on current public policies in your state?  The Mississippi Hospital Association, AHA and DeSoto Economic Council send e-newsletters with public policy updates, and our team works to discuss issues and legislation with our delegation.

If you could help advocate for one change in your state, what would it be and why?  DeSoto County residents have one of the lowest unemployment rates and highest median wages of any county in our state, but we have the highest number of uninsured residents in our state.  Part of this is because the employees are not full time or are temporary employees through agencies. This is a loophole in the Affordable Care Act that affects employees who have worked years for area employers but are still considered temporary employees. Insurance by the employer is not required, and the employee’s income is high enough to not qualify for any health exchange subsidies when he/she looks to find coverage. Most opt for no health insurance for their families due to the premium costs.  Mississippi also did not accept the federal funds to expand Medicaid making the working poor who qualified in the past not able to qualify now.

Do you have a favorite AHA/ASA event you annually attend?  What is your motivation to participate?  We created at our hospital an event we plan on making annual called “Fashionably Heart Healthy.” Survivors of heart conditions are the models, and community leaders are invited for a luncheon and fashion show. All proceeds raised go to AHA.

Tell us one unique thing about yourself. 

I won the International Science Fair top award in chemistry in high school. The research done made national headlines and caused the Food & Drug Administration to change the chemical required components in plastic wrap due to dangerous levels of a suspected carcinogen migrating into high fat foods. A love for science and communication paved the way for me to take care of others in hospital administration.

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Mississippi Communities Celebrate American Heart Month

This American Heart Month, we encourage you to find out your heart attack risk and develop a plan to live a healthier life.

And we’re thrilled that local communities are spreading the word about heart health! Numerous cities throughout Mississippi have issued proclamations in honor of American Heart Month and/or National Wear Red Day, which was celebrated on February 5. Proclamation cities include: Jackson, Madison, Ridgeland, Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, Diamondhead, Hernando, Southaven, Gulfport, Clarksdale, Tunica and Tunica County and the Mississippi State Legislature.  The Governor's Mansion and Jackson City Hall also were lit red in observance of National Wear Red Day.

We thank these communities for calling residents to take control of their heart health. Together, we can take a stand against heart disease. More photos of these proclamation ceremonies and building in Mississippi that lit red can be found on our Metro Jackson Facebook page and/ or the You're the Cure Mississippi Facebook page.

Pictured below:

(Top Picture) Thank you to Senator Sally Doty for sponsoring the Senate Resolution to recognize National Wear Red Day! ‪#‎GoRedWearRed‬   From left to right: Senator Barbara Blackmon, Tina Lakey, Christy Bridges, Carol Dendy, Senator Sally Doty, Senator Rita Parks, Senator Angela Turner,  Senator Tammy Felder Witherspoon, Senator Jennifer Branning

(Middle Picture) Representative Becky Currie sponsored House Resolution 17 recognizing National Wear Red Day! Thank you for your support!

From left to right: Christy Bridges, Carol Dendy, Representative Becky Currie, Tina Lakey

(Bottom Picture) Cities across Mississippi proclaiming National Wear Red Day and National Heart Month.


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Christopher Pena, Mississippi

Christopher Pena, Richland, MS

Christopher's Mom, Kristi, shares her son’s story with heart disease...

An update on Christopher since the original article published in 2014: Since the article, Christopher has been diagnosed with prolonged QT Syndrome, an electrical issue of the heart. Two weeks ago, we learned that the function of his heart has increased, while the thickness and enlargement has also increased (cardiomyopathy relapse).  At this time, we remain hopeful that this is due to growth and an increase in heart medicine will fix this issue.  In the meantime, it's a reminder that we must live by faith every day. In January, Christopher went on his 'Catch a Dream' trip where he harvested an 8 point white tail deer. They say that while he is the youngest hunter to date, that he is the best shot they've seen!

[Original Article]

My son Christopher was born in April 2008.  Shortly after birth, he appeared to be struggling under the vigilant watch of his nurses.  A pulse ox reading indicated low oxygen, which led to a chest x-ray revealing Christopher had a severely enlarged heart.  Doctors diagnosed him with non-compacted cardiomyopathy, a very rare condition in which the heart muscle remains sponge-like after birth and causes the heart to be very weak. 

Christopher's cardiomyopathy affects his right and left ventricles, where it is very hard for his heart to pump and function correctly.  The medical team told us that the only option was a heart transplant.  Without a guarantee of survival, we opted against a heart transplant with only the very best quality of life in mind for our son.  Christopher was given 6 months at the most to live.  We believed that the doctors could tell us what they knew from books, but our Mighty God is the Great Healer and could fully heal his heart either way.  We knew our son would be okay, but we would need some help. 

At 45 days old, Christopher was admitted into hospice care.  Fifteen months later, he was released from hospice when an echo cardiogram showed that his heart function had tripled! 

At 18 months, his heart function was almost normal!!  God still performs miracles each and every day.

In February 2010, it was discovered that Barth Syndrome (BTHS) is the cause of Christopher's cardiomyopathy.  Barth syndrome is a very rare, sex-linked genetic disorder of lipid metabolism that affects males.  Typically, boys with BTHS present with hypotonia (low muscle tone) and dilated cardiomyopathy (labored breathing, poor appetite, and/or slow weight gain) at or within the first few months after birth.  Other important features of BTHS include bacterial infections because of neutropenia (a reduction in the number of white blood cells called neutrophils), muscle weakness, fatigue, and short stature.  Although most children with Barth syndrome manifest all of these characteristics, some have only one or two of these abnormalities and, as a result, often are given incorrect diagnoses. 

There are less than 200 known cases of Barth Syndrome worldwide.  If people would hold hands from one end of the earth and go all the way around the world, only one of those people would be a boy with Barth syndrome.  It was described to us like finding a needle in a haystack for the doctors to discover that Christopher has BTHS!  There is no specific treatment for Barth syndrome, but each of the individual problems can be successfully controlled. 

Christopher has most of the characteristics, including cardiomyopathy, neutropenia, muscle weakness and some other problems.  He has homebound, speech, physical and occupational therapy as well as therapeutic horseback riding.  He is currently doing very well, all things considering! 

Having this disease, which impacts our entire family, has been both the worst and best thing to ever happen to our family.     We still depend on miracles every day.  God is in control; He doesn't do half miracles and our trust in Him has never failed us.  Christopher has done many things to represent miracles, Barth syndrome, our local Children's Miracle Network hospital and Blair E. Batson Hospital for children.  He has been in countless news stories, mini documentaries and on the cover of multiple local magazine covers.  He even was mentioned in a recent Wall Street Journal article about rare diseases.  In addition to that, he is one of the 'faces' describing the 'look' of Barth syndrome in the orphanet journal of rare diseases written by one of the Barth syndrome specialists.

Christopher has met many amazing individuals along the way, including the President, Miss America and numerous other celebrities.  Christopher is in fact a living legend himself.

This past year, Christopher had a mild stroke.  For many reasons the American Heart Association is a cause near and dear to the hearts of our family.  Christopher represents the true need for pulse ox screening and congenital heart defects and stroke awareness.  We thank the American Heart Association and its volunteers for their tireless efforts in making sure the public has the knowledge and medical care needed to save lives.

To read more about Christopher or to follow his progress: Facebook--  Crusade4Christopher and/or CaringBridge Christopher. 

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