American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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Meet Dr. Steven Houser - New President of AHA

We’re excited to introduce the new AHA President, Steven Houser, Ph.D., FAHA. He not only serves as President but is the senior associate dean of research at Temple University. Most importantly Dr. Houser in a veteran You’re the Cure advocate having testified before Congress and has participated alongside fellow advocates in lobby days at our nation’s Capital. Watch this short video to learn more about Dr. Houser and why he volunteers for the AHA and read more about him here.

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How fate brought together three stroke survivors' families

The following article about You're the Cure advocate Ryley Williams and two other youths who survived strokes on the same day was published by AHA CEO Nancy Brown in the Huffington Post on July 6th, 2016. A link is provided at the end of the story.

In the community of Dartmouth in the Canadian province Nova Scotia, Nik Latter’s family is throwing what his mom promises will be “a big ol’ party.” Fist bumps and hugs will celebrate the fact he’s made it an entire year since his devastating July 8th.

One by one, over each of the last three July 8s, Ryley, Amber and Nik suffered a stroke. Yet the oddity of their shared date is only part of what led their moms to create a de facto support group.

What really brought them together is that Ryley, Amber and Nik were — and still are — teenagers.

Ryley was 15 and devoted to becoming the starting nose guard on his varsity football team. Amber was 13 and loved playing softball and hanging out with the two girls who’d been her best friends since kindergarten. Nik was a few days shy of 18 and had left school to work at a restaurant; he’d bought a car and aimed to become a voluntary firefighter following that upcoming birthday.

Now, well, their dreams are different.

As we approach July 8, the families allowed me to share their stories to send an important message: Stroke can attack anyone at any time.


Ryley Williams went into the summer following his freshman year at Bentonville (Arkansas) High with one goal. He wanted to draw the attention of the varsity football coaches.

So he ran and lifted weights. He ate six meals a day, devouring only foods that would expand his 6-foot, 242-pound frame the right way.

“Honey, you’re never late, you make good grades, you don’t cause any problems — trust me, the coaches notice you,” his mom, Terri Rose, told him. “They just won’t tell you they notice you.”

The morning of Monday, July 8, 2013, Ryley went to an indoor field for football practice. He was stretching when he grabbed his leg and collapsed. Everyone thought he’d pulled a muscle and overreacted. Then they realized there was more to it.

At the hospital, a brain scan showed a bigger problem than the facility could handle. He was flown by helicopter to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. It wasn’t easy fitting someone his size into the chopper.

When they landed, seizures began. Off he went for an MRI. Looking at the results, the doctor pointed to five spots.

“This is a stroke, this is a stroke, this is a stroke, this is a stroke and this is a stroke,” the doctor said. “We need to find out why he has so many blood clots in his brain.”

Around 3 a.m. Wednesday, they still didn’t know why. And now they had a new problem. Ryley’s brain was swelling.

He underwent an operation to remove part of his skull. With Ryley sedated, doctors also took a closer look at his heart. They found hair-like strands of a bacterial infection on the outside of two valves. A-ha! This was the source.

Next question: How much brain damage had he suffered? His right side didn’t function. Doctors cautioned he may never walk or talk.

As Ryley was coming out of his medically induced coma, some football players visited. Coaches, too. They brought a varsity jersey with his number, 99.

“The head coach drove down to Little Rock and stayed with us when Ryley had the skull surgery,” Terri said. “Other coaches came to visit, too. They told us they were watching him. They knew he was going to have a big year. Hearing that was bittersweet.”

Fast forward to today.

His right arm remains compromised. He also battles aphasia, a condition that sometimes makes it hard for him to get words out. Still, Ryley recently graduated high school, right on time. He even spent the last year working at a Walmart Neighborhood Market. And he’s become an advocate for the American Stroke Association. Last year, he and Terri encouraged a Congressional subcommittee in Washington, D.C., to support more funding for research and awareness about pediatric stroke.

He’s spending this summer at a facility that specializes in neuropsychology recovery for victims of strokes and traumatic brain injuries. He’s learning skills to live on his own, although he plans to spend two years at home while attending Northwest Arkansas Community College.

“He’s incredibly positive,” Terri said. “He’s accepted everything. He tells you, `This is who I am now.’”


The night of July 8, 2014, Amber Hebert was on first base when the next batter hit the ball to the outfield.

Amber ran to second base without anyone trying to get her out, then fell as if she’d been punched. She vomited and went into a seizure. Her 5-foot-3, 86-pound body thrashed so violently that four firefighters held her down while a fifth injected her with medicine.

The local hospital in Bellevue, Nebraska, ended up sending her to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. The seizures continued until 3 a.m.

“When she finally stopped seizing, she was able to see and talk and understand you,” said her mom, Tirzah Hebert. “But I could see the fear in her eyes.”

Tests — and seizures — continued throughout the next day. Finally, doctors declared she’d suffered a stroke.

The next day, Amber sat in a chair holding a cup and walked around her hospital floor. The following day, she had a bit more difficulty holding a cup but could still walk. That night, Tirzah asked if she understood what had happened.

“I don’t know,” Amber said.

The next day, a Saturday, Amber couldn’t walk, talk or hold up her head. This continued until Tuesday, when she finally underwent an MRI. It showed that her brain was swelling.

Doctors were able to reduce it with medicine. Then came the waiting game to determine the extent of brain damage. Soon, she began smiling and communicating with her left hand — fist for yes, open palm for no.

These days, Amber walks, but sometimes the toes on her right foot curl, causing her to drag her foot.

She can’t move her right hand or wrist. She also has aphasia. Therapists believe that with practice she’ll improve in every area. (Doctors never determined the cause of her stroke.)

Alas, there have been other obstacles.

Shortly after Amber made it home, her dad’s dad — with whom she was very close — died of cancer. Four months later, a lump in her dad’s neck was found to be cancerous. Early detection plus chemotherapy and radiation helped him beat it.

School proved no refuge. She went from being one of the most popular girls at school to getting bullied. Her two lifelong best friends “just disappeared,” Tirzah said. Amber switched to homeschooling until giving the classroom another try this summer.

“She’s a happy girl, for the most part, very loving and caring,” Tirzah said. “She still has some depression, but who wouldn’t? To have your life completely turned upside down like hers has?”


Even as a child, Nik Latter struggled with migraines. So, last June, when he had one that was bad enough to go to a hospital, nobody thought much of it.

Nor did anyone think twice when he left work complaining of a migraine on Sunday, July 5, 2015.

The next day, he endured what he described as the worst migraine he’d ever experienced. He wore sunglasses indoors and had his mom, Rhonda, drive him to a clinic. The next day, he slept at his grandparents’ house because it was quieter than being home with his two younger sisters.

Rhonda visited him Wednesday, he stared blankly. He tried talking, but nothing came out.

“He’s having a stroke,” she declared. “Call 911!”

A scan showed a mass on the right side of his brain. During an operation, doctors determined it was a stroke. Days later, it was determined the cause was a sinus infection gone severely wrong. The infection broke the barrier between the sinus and the brain, releasing a blood clot.

Nik’s recovery started great. He gave hugs, pulled his mom’s hair and played thumb wars with his sisters. Then, in the early hours of July 16, he had another stroke. On the other side of his brain.

Doctors said Nik may not survive. But the family wanted to give him every chance. Their faith was rewarded when he was weaned off the breathing tube.

He continued clearing hurdles, although he remained hospitalized until March. The long struggle seemed to deflate him; being home reinvigorated him. He now puts his right foot down and pushes his wheelchair. He fist bumps with his right hand, laughs, smiles and kicks.

He makes sounds and, sometimes, says words. Not enough to say he’s talking. But he’s trying.

“He’s very aware of his surroundings,” Rhonda said.


While each stroke story is different, every stroke shares similarities.

Time lost is brain lost. The sooner the stroke can be recognized, the sooner treatment can begin. The gold standard of treatment is called tPA. If this clot-busting drug is administered within three hours, and up to 4.5 hours in some cases, the extent of recovery can improve drastically.

That’s why the American Stroke Association urges everyone to remember the acronym FAST. When you see Face drooping, Arm weakness or Speech difficulty, it’s Time to call 911.

Stroke is the No. 2 killer worldwide and No. 5 in the United States. While it’s true that strokes usually happen to older people is true, Ryley, Amber and Nik are proof that’s not always the case.

The world of pediatric stroke is small enough — and the pull of the internet is strong enough — that families of survivors are bound to find each other.

For instance, Terri connected with Lea Chaulk, a Canadian mom whose son was about the same age as Ryley and had a stroke about the same time. Terri and Lea became like sisters as they helped their sons grieve over the lives they lost and learn to embrace their new reality. Lea later introduced Terri to Rhonda.

Meanwhile, Ryley got to know four teenagers from the Kansas City area who were featured by American Heart Association News after they overcame strokes during high school to graduate on time. One of those families had gotten to know the Heberts, and they connected Terri and Tirzah.

The three moms — Terri, Tirzah and Rhonda — lean on each other often. They’ve yet to meet in person, although Ryley and Amber have shared messages via Facebook.

“Knowing that I’m not alone has helped soooo much,” Tirzah said.

“If I didn’t have some of these moms, I think I’d go insane,” said Rhonda, laughing. “Sometimes I sit down and get lost in thought and get upset. Then I’ll send one of them a message saying `I need you to bring me back down to Earth.’”

Three families irrevocably altered, all on a July 8. It’s incredible. Yet from this coincidence comes strength.

“I’ve told my family, `Look, it happened to two other kids on the same day,’” Tirzah said. “It’s like, Wow. And we’ve all made it this far. And you know what? We’re going to keep on going.”

Read the rest of the story on the Huffington Post.

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Share Your Story - Jackie Blake

Jackie Blake Iowa

One word…TERRIFYING.  That is how Ross Blake describes the events on July 20, 2009.  He, along with his wife Jackie and their young daughter Madelyn, had just embarked on a road trip to see his sister in Eastern Iowa when Jackie started to complain that she could not see while driving.  After guiding Jackie to gently press the brakes while he steered the car onto the side of the road for her, Ross called 9-1-1. 

Jackie was transported to a local hospital via ambulance where her symptoms worsened.  She began vomiting and had difficulty speaking.   Doctors performed a CT scan that came back clear, so Jackie was diagnosed with a migraine and sent home to rest.  But shortly after leaving the hospital Ross saw that his wife’s eyes were pointing in two different directions.  One aimed at him, and one looking down to the center console in the car.  They headed back to the hospital where it was determined that Jackie needed to be transported to Des Moines for further evaluation.  They would soon discover that Jackie was having a stroke, and that she needed emergency surgery to dissolve the clot in her brain. 

"There is a 30% chance that your wife will survive surgery.  If she does, she will likely be in a nursing home."

As Ross heard those words and sent Jackie into surgery, he thought about the possibility of losing his wife and raising their daughter alone.  It was the worst feeling ever.

Thankfully, Jackie survived surgery, but it was still yet to be determined what kind of condition she would be in when she woke up.  At first, she couldn’t write or talk, so Jackie tried using sign language.  The nurses taught her how to suction the saliva out of her own mouth because she couldn’t swallow. 

Over the next two weeks Jackie spent 6 grueling hours in therapy at the hospital each day, learning to walk, learning to talk, remembering colors and fighting to get stronger so she could hold her daughter again.  The sight of his wife in that condition caused a variety of emotions for Ross…terror, sympathy, sadness.  But one day her sarcasm and sense of humor returned, and Ross knew she was going to be ok.

Upon being released from the hospital Jackie continued to slur her speech, she was easily irritated and things still felt a bit "cloudy", so she continued going to speech, physical and occupational therapy sessions for four months to get better.  Her mother and mother-in-law came to help take care of Madeline until Jackie was able to multitask and it was safe for her to be alone with her daughter.  She learned how to drive again and was able to return to work full-time that December. 

Today, at age 36, Jackie now has two beautiful daughters, Madeline and Clara, and she lives with a self-described "new normal".  The lingering effects of her stroke cause panic attacks and migraines, speech can still be difficult, she makes lists for everything so she doesn’t forget, and her emotions are heavily impacted by those around her.  But, more importantly, Jackie and Ross are determined to raise awareness that strokes can happen to anyone, at any age, and to help others recognize the risk factors and warning signs.  They are thankful to Jackie’s amazing medical team who brought her back, and for the incredible research and technology that are impacting the lives of stroke patients everywhere.

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Share Your Story - Javan Cruz

Javan Cruz Missouri

Just 5 percent is the chance of survival when a child suffers sudden cardiac arrest away from a hospital. Javan Cruz is among that small percentage.

Back in April, Javan suffered a total of seven sudden cardiac arrests while in his 7th grade classroom.

Thanks to quick action taken by his teacher and school nurse, he’s with us today. Javan credits his survival to the Pioneer Ridge Middle School staff, who performed CPR and used an AED.

Read More Here.

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Share Your Story - Rick Worrel

Rick Worrel Kansas

It was a cool, spring morning in May when thousands gathered to support the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network for a 5K run through Theis Park.  "I wanted to beat my time, so I had been training on my own," Rick Worrel said.

The year before, Worrel had some heart issues but was well and ready to get back in the race. He was running alongside his 16-year-old daughter, Brooke Worrel, who ended up crossing the finish line a short distance ahead of her dad. But as she waited for him at the finish line, he never came.

"I turn, and there's a group forming, and I realized who it is," she said.  There, lying 25 feet from the finish line, was her dad who went down with a "widowmaker" heart attack.  Read More Here.

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Join our journey to 200 FAST Act cosponsors

There is nothing like a summer road trip. A chance to explore new places and experience adventures along the way. Right now, we are beginning our own summer journey: achieving 200 cosponsors for the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act and we need you to come along for the ride.

Join the journey to 200 cosponsors by tweeting your House member to cosponsor the FAST Act!

Since we began this campaign last fall, we’ve achieved 145 U.S. House co-sponsors… almost 100 since March alone! But we need to keep up the pressure if we want to reach our goal of 200.

Telestroke can help ensure that more stroke patients receive clot-busting therapy and that they receive it more quickly, greatly improving the chances of a full recovery. But this vital technology is not available to everyone, which is why the FAST Act is vital for Americans across the country.

We need as much support as possible if we want to get this bill to the President's desk.

Will you tweet your member of Congress today?

Thank you for everything you do and enjoy the journey!

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Remarkable Success

Each summer at the American Heart Association, we pause to reflect on all we've accomplished over a year. You're the Cure advocates are working hard, and they're truly changing their communities for the better!

In the past year, our volunteers, staff and partners helped pass 74 state and local laws or regulations that help Americans enjoy longer, healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. Here are a few highlights of the exciting progress we've made together:

  • More than 400,000 people gained access to health insurance coverage through the expanded Medicaid program in 2 states. Advocates are hard at work to increase access in the remaining 19 states that have yet to expand their Medicaid programs.
  • Four states and Washington, D.C. passed measures to screen infants for critical congenital heart defects — meaning an additional 208,000 babies in those states and more than 1 million babies across the country will be screened each year. The simple, inexpensive, lifesaving pulse oximetry test is now required in 45 states.
  • States, cities, counties and communities across the country dedicated funding to enhance roadways that make it safer and easier for more than 21.2 million people to walk and ride bicycles.
  • New York City approved more than $9 million in funding for physical education, impacting more than 416,000 elementary school students in the city.
  • Thanks to laws passed this year requiring CPR training in 10 states and a handful of large counties or school districts, more than 740,000 additional students will graduate from high school with the skills to save lives. This brings the total to more than 2 million students in 35 states who will be trained in CPR every year before high school graduation!

I hope you'll take a moment this summer to truly appreciate the impact you're making on our communities as a You're the Cure advocate. Success this big deserves a celebration!  

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Find the Heart Walk Near You

The Heart Walk is the American Heart Association’s premier community event, helping to save lives from heart disease and stroke. More than 300 walks across America raise funds to support valuable health research, education and advocacy programs of the American Heart Association in every state. Our You’re the Cure advocacy movement – and our public policy successes along the way – are all made possible by the funds raised by the Heart Walk. Whether it’s CPR laws passed to train the next generation of lifesavers or policy to regulate tobacco products and prevent youth smoking,  together we are building a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The Heart Walk is truly a community event, celebrating survivors, living healthy, and being physically active. We hope you’ll join us and visit the site today. If there is not a walk listed in your area soon,  it may be coming in the spring season or you can join a virtual event. And don’t forget to connect with your local advocacy staff and ask about your local Heart Walk day-of You’re the Cure plans - they may need your help spreading the word. Thanks for all you do, and happy Heart Walk season.

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We Can't Rest

Although August is usually a time for vacations and trips to the pool, it’s also an ideal time to meet with your federal lawmakers. Members of Congress will be traveling back home, which means for the entire month they will be closer to their constituents and interested in hearing from you!

As You’re the Cure advocates, we want to meet with as many lawmakers as possible and urge them to take action on important issues that affect heart disease and stroke patients in your hometown and across the country.

Are you up for it? If so, here’s the plan!

1. Pick one (or more!) of the following issues

Click on each issue below to learn more information on the latest developments before meeting with your lawmaker:


2. Get in contact with local AHA staff

Fill out this simple form to tell us a little bit about yourself, where you live, your contact information, and which issue or issues you’d like to bring up with your lawmakers. Then AHA staff will take it from there and get in touch with you about scheduling a meeting. 

3. Prepare for your meeting

Members of Congress want to hear how the policies we support affect their districts & constituents, and they want to know why it's important to YOU! AHA staff can help with the local information, but only you can share your personal story!

  • Think about how these policies would impact your life or the life of someone close to you. Would your experience with heart disease or stroke have been different if we had more research funding or better access to telestroke care or cardiac rehab? Do you rely on schools to deliver nutritious foods to your children? Do you see patients who would benefit from these policies? Is there another reason these policies are important to you?
  • Write your story down and practice sharing it, being sure to make the connection to the policy issue you will be discussing.  

That's it- You're ready to help us make a difference this August!

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Share Your Story: Hayden Grimm

Hayden Grimm Iowa

Hayden was born January 21, 2011, and at the time his parents had no idea anything was wrong with him. Twelve hours after he was born though, he was taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He was diagnosed with Hypo-plastic Left Heart Syndrome. Hayden had his first open heart surgery at six days old, second at five months and third at three and a half years old. Hayden will never be "fixed," but he is doing well. He is currently on 3 daily medications, loves pickles and salad and stays active. He just finished up Preschool and is excited to go to Kindergarten in the Fall!

Join Hayden and his family on September 11, 2016 at the McGrath Amphitheatre for the Cedar Rapids Heart Walk to help fight heart disease and stroke in Iowa!

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