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: Abby Snodgrass

Abby Snodgrass Missouri

Abby Snodgrass, a suburban St. Louis high school student, is being credited with saving a baby's life. 

Hillsboro High School student Abby Snodgrass knew what to do when an 11month old child stopped breathing at a Walmart store in High Ridge.

Snodgrass was in a dressing room when she heard an emergency call. She ran out to find a crowd surrounding the infant and panicked mother, but no one was doing anything to save the child. Snodgrass had learned CPR in school a couple of months earlier. She performed chest compressions and the child began breathing again.

High Ridge Fire District Chief Mike Arnhart says the child may not have survived if not for Snodgrass' quick actions.

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Successful Wear Red Day at the Missouri Capitol!

Lawmakers, advocates and staff helped fill the halls of the Missouri Capitol with RED on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 to bring awareness to the number one killer of women – heart disease.  While there, advocates from across the state met with their lawmakers to share their stories of heart disease and stroke while asking for support of our CPR in Schools legislation (HB 457). 

Our message was heard loud and clear as everyone gathered on the Grand Staircase for the annual Wear Red Day photo. In addition, resolutions in both the House and Senate declaring February “American Heart Month” were presented by our sponsors - Representative Kirkton and Senator Curls.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who helped make this year's Wear Red Day at the Capitol such a huge success! You can find more pictures from the day here.

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Share Your Story: Mrs. 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: Susan O'Brien

Susan O'Brien Missouri

Susan O’Brien was living happily with her new husband Mark and their two puppies in their dream home, enjoying good times as summer approached.  “Life was wonderful,” recalled Susan, a petite woman in her 50s who exercised regularly and was in seemingly good health. “I felt great.”

Then something startling happened while she sat at her desk at work in May 2013. Susan felt faint. The dizzy spell lasted only a couple of seconds, and she didn’t pass out.  “I was nearly fainting, doing nothing by sitting,” she said.  Two days later, the feeling came again, this time while she walked in the park. Susan knew she needed to get checked by a doctor right away.  “I know my body,” she said. “I went to my physician.” 

Even though her blood pressure and cholesterol were normal and there were no outward signs of a problem, Susan and the doctor decided she would wear a portable heart monitor to find out what might be going on.  “He was being really thorough,” she said.  Susan wore the monitor for 24 hours, feeling fine the whole time. “We went out that night, we went shopping.”  It took eight days for the results to come back. Those results altered her life.  “I am looking at your heart monitor results, and they’re not good,” the doctor told her. “You need to get to the hospital immediately.”  Susan had a condition known as ventricular tachycardia. Her heart was enlarged and beating dangerously fast. When she was having dizzy spells, her heart was beating abnormally and could have stopped.

The next day, she received an internal defibrillator, a battery-powered device surgically implanted under the skin to keep track of her heart rate; when it detects a problem, it sends an electrical impulse to restore a normal heartbeat.  Susan and her relatives were stunned by the diagnosis. No one in her family was known to have heart disease.  Doctors said a virus at some point in her life may have led to the condition. But they didn’t know for sure.

Susan took three months of medical leave from her job at the Webster Groves School District in the St. Louis area. She has resumed normal activities and sometimes finds it hard to fathom that she has a heart problem.  “I think, ‘I can’t believe I went through that,’” she said. “It’s life changing.”

What hasn’t changed is her zest for living. She’s just learned to do it with a small square defibrillator inside her that she jokingly nicknamed “Imo” after a famous pizza joint in St. Louis that cuts its pizzas into squares and boasts of “the square beyond compare.”

Susan, now 55, remains active and a healthy 115 pounds at 5-foot-2. Her message for others is this:  “You don’t have to be overweight and out of shape to have a heart problem. … Listen to your body, and get more than one opinion.” 

Susan is back to enjoying happy times with her husband Mark, a police officer whom she’d known for many years and married in August 2012. She’s thankful every day for the doctor who decided to put her on a heart monitor to evaluate her condition.  Along with working at her full time job, Susan is volunteering with the American Heart Association. She is in the process of putting together “Susan’s Team Imo” for the St. Louis Heart Walk in spring 2015. She wants to help other women by warning them that signs of heart trouble can be different in women and men and that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.  “I am excited and happy to help bring my story to the public,” she said, “to bring some awareness to this silent killer.”


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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: Lauren Lutz

Lauren Lutz Missouri

Rep. Ron Hicks, R-St. Peters, has several awards hanging on his office wall. He was most proud of the Child Advocacy Award he received, a little over a year ago. The award was for his part in the passage of Jonathan’s Law. "It was the only clean bill out of the House and the Senate," Hicks said.

However, nothing compares to the award Hicks received this past February – The American Heart Association’s Heart Saver Award. That plaque will be a reminder of one of the most glorious sounds he has ever heard – a young woman breathing life back into her body. "When she came to, the feeling was overwhelming," Hicks said.

It was back in February, that Lauren and Burl Lutz were preparing to sell lunches in the capitol rotunda. Burl owns Lutz Barbecue, which is a regular capitol caterer. During a 15-minute lull, Lauren, 24, at the time, took a sip of lemonade and noticed that it was especially stout. Just seconds later, she suffered a seizure. Burl helped lower her to the ground. Her lips had turned blue and she was no longer breathing. "I was panicking like Hell," Burl Lutz said.

Hicks happened to be meeting with Bruce Holt, in the Rotunda, when Lauren had fallen to the ground. They witnessed a crowd of people gathering and heard a commotion nearby. They rushed over to the action and saw Burl on the ground next to Lauren. Hicks immediately called 9-1-1 and then noticed that Lauren’s lips had turned blue. "We’re going to have to do CPR," Hicks yelled out.

At this point, Burl was struggling to keep it together as his daughter was unresponsive. With Hicks encouragement, he started giving Lauren mouth-to-mouth recessitation. Hicks then proceeded to perform chest compressions. Holt held up a tablecloth in case they had to remove articles of Lauren’s clothing to allow them to perform CPR effectively. "It was a team effort," Hicks said. He credits Burl as the real hero.

It had been about 15 years since Hicks performed CPR and even then, he had only assisted. Fortunately, he had just completed a training session with the Wentzville Fire Department. He vividly remembered the advice of the instructor to press hard and fast. "Make the rib cage flex," Hicks recalled. "Don’t be afraid to break a rib."

After a few breathes of air from Burl and several compressions from Hicks, Lauren took in a deep breath of air, just like she had been holding her breath while swimming in a pool. "He gave his daughter life twice," Hicks said.

Lauren remembers how the lemonade tasted and waking up in on a gurney surrounded by emergency personnel. Luckily, she has not had a seizure since.



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Health Organizations Applaud Branson for Passing Strong Smoke-Free Law

Missouri’s leading health organizations thank Mayor Raeanne Presley and the Branson Board of Alderman for unanimously passing a strong smoke-free ordinance. This ordinance will protect workers and the public from the serious health hazards of secondhand smoke.

“Supporters and volunteers have tirelessly worked for Branson citizens’ right to breathe clean indoor air,” said Traci Kennedy, executive director of Tobacco-Free Missouri. “Smoke-free policies are the most economic and effective protection from secondhand smoke exposure. And no one should have to put their health at risk in order to earn a paycheck or enjoy a night out.”

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Tobacco Free Missouri applaud the persistence of the many individuals and organizations that fought the long battle to make Branson smoke-free. The organizations combined forces with the community to urge Branson city leaders to join other cities across Missouri to pass a comprehensive smoke-free workplace ordinance that eliminates smoking in indoor public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars.

“Branson is now added to the growing list of smoke-free cities,” said Teri Harr, volunteer chair for the Tri-Lakes Clean Air Alliance. “As a tourist destination to millions of visitors each year, we are elated to celebrate this milestone and show the rest of Missouri that Branson values the health of its workers, residents and visitors.”

It is estimated that secondhand smoke exposure kills more than 41,000 Americans every year. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 70 that cause cancer. The U.S. Surgeon General has found that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome.

“The scientific evidence is clear – there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” said Kennedy. “Soon residents, employees and visitors in Branson will be able to celebrate breathing clean indoor air. We will continue to help the city in any way possible to support the implementation and enforcement of the city’s new smoke-free ordinance.”

Branson’s comprehensive smoke-free ordinance takes effect July 1, 2015.

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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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