American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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2015 Legislative Breakfast

More than 40 advocates gathered at the Cornhusker Hotel last week for training and a review of important legislative issues being in the 2015 Legislative session.  Volunteers heard from advocates whose lives have been profoundly impacted by heart disease and stroke.  Jill Duis, survivor and long-time AHA volunteer welcomed advocates to this year's event and shared a bit of her story of survival from both a congenital heart defect and a stroke.  Her efforts in advocacy and fundraising have made a impact on heart health in our state. 

Melinda Kentfield shared her tragic story of the loss of her son, Taylor, to sudden cardiac arrest.  Taylor was out jogging when he suddenly collapsed, and was not able to receive immediate CPR.  Melinda shares her story as a way to encourage everyone to learn Hands Only CPR. Melinda doesn't want what happened to Taylor to happen to another family and is advocating for Hands Only CPR to be included as a high school graduation requirement. Pam Miller, Grassroots Advocacy Director for the American Heart Association also shared the story of her 78 year old father who was saved by bystander CPR when he had sudden cardiac arrest last year. 

These and other heart health issues are important reasons how our advocates can make a difference when it comes to legislative policy.  When lawmakers hear how congenital heart defects, Stroke, sudden cardiac arrest and CPR affect Nebraskans, it can have a lasting impact and ultimately lead to effective policy change. 

Even though our Legislative breakfast is over until next year, our advocates can participate in the discussion by reading their Advocacy Pulse newsletter every month, by taking action on Action Alerts, by contacting their Senators on issues of interest to them and by raising their voice to ensure their concerns are heard in Lincoln.  We need your voice to improve the cardiovascular health of our state! 

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What's Up with School Nutrition?

There is a lot of discussion out there about school nutrition – and we couldn’t be happier about that!  Students consume 35% - 50% of their daily caloric intake at school where they are often exposed to junk foods and sugar-sweetened beverages that have little to no nutritional value.  Parents – and students – have concerns about the nutritional value of the foods their kids are consuming at school. Schools are in a unique position to provide a healthy environment by promoting and providing nutritious meals. 

CLICK HERE for an informational video about school nutrition. 

Here is what we know:  In December 2010, the President signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to update national nutrition standards for school meals and establish nutrition standards for other foods sold in schools throughout the school day.  As a result, in school year 2013-2014, nearly 90% of schools in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) met nutritional standards, up from 14% in 2009-2010.  That means an overwhelming majority of children are receiving heart-healthy lunches while at school. 

We also know that a healthy school environment, including healthy nutrition, helps improve children’s physical well-being, enhances learning, minimizes behavior problems and increases attendance. 

The evidence is overwhelming that the new school meal standards are working.  Going into child nutrition reauthorization for 2015, the American Heart Association advocates for:

  • Continued support to schools for effective implementation of the federal nutrition standards for school meals.
  • Continued strong implementation of Smart Snacks in School standards. These standards include reducing sodium; eliminating trans fat; decreasing saturated far; minimizing fried foods; offering healthy beverage options; and increasing the offering of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and low-fat dairy. 
  • Continued robust technical assistance by the USDA to support schools in implementing nutrition standards, effective nutrition education, and nutrition promotion and model local wellness policies with effective implementation and evaluation. 
  • Investments in kitchen equipment and infrastructure that can help schools serve healthier meals. 


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Advocate Spotlight: Julie Smith

Julie Smith Nebraska

Heart disease has always been of importance to me even before I became a nurse.  My parents both had cardiovascular disease identified when they were in their 50s.  It affected their lives then and as they aged.  Being from a rural area, when my father had his first heart attack at age 52, a service from a boarding state was the closest EMS we had and they were a volunteer service.  Their answering the 911 call and driving on the dirt roads in the middle of the night made the difference for my Dad.

That is one reason I am so passionate about my work with Mission: Lifeline in Nebraska and the work toward the Statewide STEMI (ST Elevated MI) System of Care.  It allows me to help those type of services continue to be there for their rural neighbors.

Mission: Lifeline through the American Heart Association offers the opportunity to identify the continued gaps in rural areas where funding and education are needed to bring the latest equipment and quality care to our rural residents.  As a registered nurse, I continue to see the necessity for public education, improved systems of care and collaboration between EMS and healthcare, both urban and rural.  There remains a need for coordination of the many projects and initiatives that are going on throughout the state so we can maximize the use of our sometimes limited resources.

Our work with the STEMI Task Force which includes stakeholders from across the entire state is allowing Mission: Lifeline to pull together those resources and work towards a cohesive Statewide STEMI System of Care. This group is learning from other systems in a model sharing approach, and also continues to identify needs throughout the state.  Funding and possible legislation will be needed in the future to help sustain the great work of the Task Force and these stakeholders.  We are not able to fund all the EMS services in the state that respond to 911 calls in rural areas and the work of grassroots and advocacy groups will be needed to continue to move forward with this initiative.

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Medicaid Redesign Is Right for Nebraska

The American Heart Association supports efforts that improve access to quality healthcare for all Americans.  That includes Medicare redesign which would help reduce the costs of health care and save the lives of hundreds of Nebraskans.  The Medicaid Redesign Act proposes providing premium assistance for eligible individuals who earn between 100 and 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Limit ($11,670 to $15,521 for individuals in 2014) to purchase health insurance through the marketplace. The bill would also provide expanded Medicaid coverage for those who earn between 50 and 100 percent of the FPL ($5,835 to $11,670 for individuals).

Medicaid redesign would increase the affordability and availability of health insurance and will help curb health care costs by enabling uninsured, working adults to access timely, cost-efficient care. The Medicaid Redesign Act would substantially reduce the amount of uncompensated care, which costs the average Nebraska family an additional $1,000 a year through cost shift.

Recently, a number of editorials have appeared in newspaper sources across the state.  For an editorial by Laura J. Redoutey, president of the Nebraska Hospital Association, CLICK HERE.


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Advocate Spotlight: Karen Tesina

Karen Tesina Nebraska

Throughout my nursing career, I was always most interested in caring for the cardiovascular patient.  As a staff nurse, I worked both on a cardiac floor as well as a cardiovascular intensive care unit. Later, I was given the opportunity to start a heart program in northeast Nebraska which then lead me to working with a bigger heart program in Omaha as a Cardiovascular Service Line Executive.  My main passion has been in women and heart disease and the fact that it kills more women then the next three causes of death.   I started the Go Red For Women event while in northeast Nebraska, and continued to work with the AHA on this initiative in my current position. For the last 4 years, my hospital has been the presenting sponsor of this yearly event and we have a seen huge growth in participation, educational opportunities and fund raising efforts.   I have also been on the AHA Board for six years, being Chairman for two of these years. My leadership team  and staff are all equally as committed to the cardiovascular needs community and volunteer for the events sponsored by the AHA.  

We are all impacted in some way or another by someone who has had cardiovascular disease and this is an excellent way to show our support in the prevention and fight to find a cure.  Thanks to the American Heart Association’s dedication to research, innovative technology and community education, we have heightened awareness and impacted outcomes in a positive way!


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Mission: Lifeline Expands Across the Border

Access to emergency cardiac response is vital to saving lives from a STEMI heart attack - the most deadly kind of heart attack.  Nebraska received funding from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to support the AHA’s Mission: Lifeline initiative which has ensured all parts of our rural state have the latest technology and improved response times for STEMI heart attack.  

Recently, our neighbors to the east were the recipients of funding to ensure better coordinated heart attack care across the entire state, which will mean better outcomes for patients and more lives saved in Iowa. We are incredibly grateful to The Leona M. and Harry B Helmsley Charitable Trust for their investment in emergency cardiac care throughout the upper Midwest.  Together, we can improve outcomes and save lives.  

For more on this story, CLICK HERE.  

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More Concerns about E-Cigs

As more research comes available and more studies are being done on the effects of e-cigarettes, today the New England Journal of Medicine raises a new worry about electronic cigarettes – exposure to formaldehyde.  You remember formaldehyde, right?  Who could forget that awful-smelling chemical used in your high school biology class to dissect frogs?  Turns out, formaldehyde is formed when the propylene glycol and glycerol in e-cigarette liquids and oxygen are heated together.   

According to an article in today's Los Angeles Times Science Now, The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer says formaldehyde can cause leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers the chemical a probably human carcinogen. 

Let's not kid ourselves.  The study coauthor James Pankow, a chemistry professor and expert on cigarette smoke dangers at Portland State University, said the line between e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes was growing fuzzier by the day.

“No one should assume e-cigarettes are safe,” he said in a statement. “For conventional cigarettes, once people become addicted, it takes numerous years of smoking to result in a high risk of lung cancer and other severe disease; it will probably take five to 10 years to start to see whether e-cigarettes are truly as safe as some people believe them to be.” 

For more on this story, CLICK HERE.  

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A Healthy Recipe for School Nutrition

The U.S. is in the midst of a fullblown obesity epidemic that has disproportionately affected our children. Currently, nearly one third of children are overweight or obese. The health consequences of obesity in children are
staggering. Recent research shows that an obese child’s arteries can resemble those of a middle-aged adult and obese adolescents have an overwhelming chance of becoming obese adults. Students consume 35%- 50% of their daily caloric intake at school, where they are often exposed to junk foods and sugary drinks that have little to no nutritional value. Schools can institute a healthy environment by promoting and providing nutritious meals.

In December 2010, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to update national nutrition standards for school meals and establish nutrition standards for other foods sold in schools throughout the school day. As a result, in school year 2013-2014, nearly 90% of schools in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) met nutritional standards, up from 14% in 2009-2010. That means an overwhelming majority of children are receiving heart-healthy lunches while at school.

The law has had several other positive effects on school nutrition and health. For example:

  • Local wellness policies have been strengthened by creating more accountability and better implementation.
  • The Smart Snacks in School standards, which are set to go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year, update nutrition standards for all foods sold on the school campus outside of the meal program throughout the school day,
  • including vending machines, a la carte, and school stores. Many schools have already met the Smart Snacks standards, and many in the foo d industry are already either in compliance with or in support of these standards.
  • Schools now receive $.06 performance-based increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches for meeting the updated nutrition standards for lunch.
  • Farm-to-school programs now receive $5 million annually in mandatory funding.
  • Kids’ consumption of fruits and vegetables has increased.
  • A Government Accounting Office (GAO) report concluded that while there have been some challenges in implementing the school lunch standards, school meals are now healthier than ever and challenges are expected to resolveover time as school food service and students adjust to the changes.

Don't Give up on Children's Health

While there have been challenges, that’s not unexpected. Kids are adjusting to the new meals and appropriate portion sizes – in fact, recent interviews by the GAO showed that students like to eat healthy food and think the new school meals are healthier. Parents are happier that their children are not receiving junk for a meal. And while there has been some criticism about participation declining, this downward trend started in 2007, well before the school meal standards went into effect in 2012. In fact, the GAO report also noted that participation will likely improve over time as students and school food service fully adapt to healthier meals. Like students who may struggle in classrooms, schools that struggle with the new standards need assistance, not a pass or waiver. It is critical that schools are not forced to stop mid-implementation or get mixed messages of what is required of them. Let’s help these schools move forward and not turn back the clock on our children’s health. The evidence is overwhelming that the new school meal standards are working. Going into child nutrition reauthorization for 2015, the American Heart Association advocates for:

  • Continued support to schools for effective implementation of the federal nutrition standards for school meals.
  • Continued strong implementation of Smart Snacks in School standards. These standards include reducing sodium; eliminating trans fat; decreasing saturated fat; minimizing fried foods; offering healthy beverages; and increasing the offering of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and low-fat dairy.
  • Continued robust technical assistance by the USDA to support schools in implementing nutrition standards, effective nutrition education, and nutrition promotion and model local wellness policies with effective implementation and evaluation.


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Expect Cigar Bar Legislation During Session

Cigar bars in Nebraska will have to "snuff out" smoking in their establishments once their new liquor licenses are received from the state.  A recent Nebraska Supreme Court ruling on the cigar bar and tobacco shop exemptions to the statewide smoking ban amounted to unconstitutional special legislation. However, State Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill said he plans to offer a new cigar bar bill if he wins election as chairman of the General Affairs Committee.

For more on this story, CLICK HERE.  For updates on other tobacco legislation and other issues impacting cardiovascular health, check back often throughout the legislative session at

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Advocate Spotlight: Athena Ramos

Athena Ramos Nebraska

I’m lucky to have a healthy heart, but others in my family are not. Heart disease runs in my family. When I was only 10 years old, my Dad had a heart attack. As a child, this had a tremendous effect on me.  He ended up in the hospital with not just one bypass, but five. I remember walking into the ICU after his surgery and being so scared that I might lose my Daddy. We were lucky. He recovered thanks to a wonderful team of professionals and support from our family, but his heart attack changed our lives. We became more conscious of the foods that we ate, made sure to get some exercise, and learned a lot more about heart health.

Later, I had the great opportunity to work for Dr. Syed Mohiudden.  This was an incredible gift for me because I got to give back to the person who, in my mind, saved by Dad's life many years before.  Part of my job at the Cardiac Center was to educate community members about heart health, especially the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke, and work toward policies that improve and protect people's lives.  I continue to work in public health now at the Center for Reducing Health Disparities at the UNMC College of Public Health and have a passion for cardiovascular health.

Knowing heart disease so closely has made me aware of how it affects entire families.  In addition to my Dad, my sister Angie, Uncle Israel, and cousin Tony have all had heart bypass surgery too.  We now know that our family carries a genetic predisposition to heart disease, Lipoprotein(a). I want to be part of the cure - keeping my family safe and healthy and making my community a better place for all by educating others about health lifestyles and advocating for policies that promote health, justice and well-being.  

AHA holds a special place in my heart for the work that they do in providing accurate health information, funding vital research, and advocating for policies that really matter. Thanks for all you do!

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