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Don Bremner Takes His Message Across the Pacific to New Mexico

Don Bremner is a Kiwi in New Mexico. Not the fruit, but a term of endearment after New Zealand's national bird.  Don has brought the message of healthy heart management across the Pacific to the New Mexico State Legislature as a member of the State Advocacy Committee.

“I'm passionate about using my 3 heart experiences to help educate others", said Don. "I was very fit and healthy with no visible or medical risk factors. Like many others I had a strong dose of 'my lifestyle is so different to my Dads before he died from a heart attack' so I didn't believe the invisible hereditary risk factor would impact me. I found out how strong this factor is in my first event aged 51" said Don.

"Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer in the USA but for way too many people, their heart is out of sight, out of mind," he said. "A healthy heart beating around 100,000 times a day, 35 million times a year, is put under pressure by being overweight, smoking, lack of exercise, stress and other common risk factors."

Don encourages people to visit their Doctor, to know their numbers, then listen to and act on their advice.

“I hope that in bringing these issues to the attention of respected legislators will help generate policy and education opportunities that encourage people to live healthier and longer" he said.

At the New Zealand Heart Foundation, Don gave over 40 presentation to service and business groups on heart health. For him, reaching out to help people and their families, understand the dynamics of the heart and risk factors for cardiovascular disease is a lifesaving activity.

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Sandra Miller Roberson, Tennessee

Guest Blogger: Sandra Miller Roberson, You're the Cure advocate

Diagnosed and medicated at the age of 30, I did not understand the seriousness of controlling my high blood pressure. I had always heard it was the "silent killer" but really did not believe that pertained to me. After training with a personal trainer and settling in with a healthy diet, I decided a few months later that I no longer needed high blood pressure medicine and stopped refilling my prescription.

Not taking my blood pressure medicine was one of – ok, THE worst decision of my life. Not only did my life change dramatically at age 37, but my careless and selfish decision impacted so many others.

It was a beautiful fall day in 2009 and I was feeling great as I worked out with my trainer. All of the sudden, I was on the gym floor with a massive, exploding headache. My attempts to just go home and rest were thwarted by my friends at the gym, and I found myself in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. My last memory for several weeks was of calling my mom and telling her I was sorry, and that I loved her.

Ruptured brain aneurysm - a hemorrhagic stroke - is what I heard whispered in the ambulance that day.  What? I didn't even know what that was, much less how it happened to me at age 37. However, after weeks in the ICU and more than a full year of recovery, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about how and why this happened to me. 

Many people have aneurysms, which are balloon-like bulges or weaknesses in the vessels of the brain.  Over time, high blood pressure will put extra pressure on those vessels, eventually pushing blood into the aneurysm until the pocket grows and finally bursts. 

That's what happened to me, but unlike so many others, I made it to the hospital, and great doctors and nurses saved my life. Odds for a full recovery from a hemorrhagic stroke are extremely low, and while I beat the odds, my recovery would take time and patience. For weeks, I slept 16 hours a day napping, and even months later, would find myself needing multiple naps to make it through the day. While I was back at work eight weeks or so after the event, I was tired and overwhelmed all the time. I fought against the idea that I - always happy and easy-going - was now suffering from depression, which my doctor warned me would occur. I was medicated for depression for more than a year.

Today, I lead a normal and healthy life, and have returned to working out without restrictions. But with every headache I have, I am reminded that high blood pressure is a "silent killer" and I was one of the lucky ones. Now, unlike before, I take my blood pressure medicine, and will for the rest of my life.

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Share Your Story - Julie Rickman

Julie Rickman Kansas

American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women announced this year’s “Real Women,” national spokespeople for the cause, and one of the nine women selected is from Overland Park, Kansas.  Julie Rickman will join group members from across the country to share their personal stories, encouraging women to take a proactive role in their health by knowing their family history and scheduling a well-woman visit.

Rickman thought she was suffering from asthma when two days after Christmas she found herself in the ER with shortness of breath and fatigue. But after sharing her family history of heart disease, doctors ordered testing that revealed two blockages, requiring a stent, and evidence that Julie had a heart attack sometime during the past month.

“If you want to watch your children grow up, know your family history and share this information with your doctor at your Well-Women Visit. Your children want their mommy in their life,” Rickman says.

Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year, yet they are 80 percent preventable. One risk factor that cannot be prevented is family history.

According to a recent study in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, 95.7 percent of study respondents considered knowledge of family history important to their personal health, but only 36.9 percent reported actively collecting health information from their relatives.

“Heart disease is often said to be a silent killer. It is essential that our patients don’t remain silent as well. A patient who understands their family history and shares that information with their physician is able to paint a complete picture of their health in the exam room,” says Dr. Tracy Stevens, Medical Chair of Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center. “That complete picture is vital for accurately diagnosing and treating heart disease before it’s too late.”

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Share Your Story - Angela Baird

Angela Baird Missouri

American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women announced this year’s "Real Women," national spokespeople for the cause, and one of the nine women selected is from Grandview, Missouri. Angela Baird will join group members from across the country and share their personal stories, encouraging women to take a proactive role in their health by knowing their family history and scheduling a well-woman visit

Angela Baird nearly died at age 24. A diabetic who kept her condition well managed, Angela’s blood sugar level spiked and she became dangerously dehydrated in 2007.  At the hospital, her condition worsened, and she was put on life support as she went into a coma. Within a week, her condition improved, and doctors performed an angiogram to determine what triggered the health crisis.  Testing revealed it was caused by complications from untreated Kawasaki disease, which Angela learned had occurred almost two decades earlier. Angela’s heart was only working at third of its normal rate. She had two blocked arteries that required emergency double bypass surgery, an aneurysm, and swollen blood vessels. There was also evidence that she’d had a previous heart attack.

At age five Angela had a swollen mouth and neck and painful joints. It was Kawasaki disease, an illness characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels and typically affects young children, although doctors said it was a virus at the time.  Throughout her teens, there were other signs that something was wrong. She had shortness of breath during exercise, which doctors diagnosed as asthma, and had several cases of heat stroke. 

The heart attack had happened two years earlier, while Angela, then 22, was volunteering in a remote village in Cameroon, without access to medical care.  When she finally got to a hospital a month later, Angela was relieved when doctors said her prolonged vomiting was probably a virus. She didn’t realize that heart attack symptoms can differ in women, and can sometimes mimic the flu.  "The experience was so scary, I didn’t want doctors to tell me anything was wrong and accepted it when they couldn’t find anything," she said. "But now I know what you don’t know [about your own diagnosis], can, in fact, hurt you."

Now a fitness instructor, Angela knows all too well that healthy eating and regular exercise are key to preventing heart disease.  She encourages women to know their medical history and manage their risk factors—from blood pressure to glucose—and protect their heart health, no matter what their age. Those factors are part of  Life’s Simple 7, a group of seven health and behavior factors that taken together can help protect heart health.

"Be proactive and know what is happening with your body," she said. "Get things checked out rather than just pushing through everything."

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Share Your Story-Owen Hunt

Owen Hunt Iowa

Owen Hunt is a character-he has a certain charisma about him of someone much older.  He is an inspiring 4 year old boy who loves to talk and tell stories, play with Legos, puzzles, his dog and, on occasion, his sister. On the outside, Owen is a very normal little boy, but on the inside he is battling heart defects and autoimmune disorders.

A few weeks after Owen was born his parents began to notice that something was wrong because he was having a lot of trouble eating and breathing. At two months old, doctors found that his aorta arched to the right instead of the left as it should and had fused with another blood vessel creating a vascular ring which was pinching his esophagus and trachea shut. To help fix this problem, Owen was operated on when he was 3 months old.

At 15 months old he had another surgery to repair another defect in his aorta called a diverticulum, which is like a "bulge" or pocket. In his short four years he has also been diagnosed with having a VSD (a tiny hole in his heart), BAV (two aortic valves instead of three), GERD/reflux, tracheomalacia (weakness in part of his trachea), structural abnormalities of his lungs, chronic bronchitis, severe eating delays, Esinophillic Esophagitis (an autoimmune reaction to food proteins), and an autoimmune disorder called PANDAS (brain inflammation caused by the body's reaction to strep virus).

Despite all of this, he is an adorable entertainer with so much enthusiasm and creativity!

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Jacob's Heart

Nicole is the mother of twins—Julianna and Jacob—who were born five weeks early on June 3, 2004. Jacob Ryan Wells was born with a critical congenital heart defect (CCHD) called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. With this CCHD, the left side of Jake’s heart–including the aorta, aortic valve, left ventricle and mitral valve—was underdeveloped.

Since birth, Jake went through six open-heart surgeries, a few medi-flight helicopter rides to Stanford, a few gastrointestinal surgeries, as well as surgeries that were experimental and hadn’t quite been FDA approved.

His little, brave life endured much triumph, pain, trials and struggles. Through it all, and during the long hospital stays, he had such a strong spirit, always having a smile on his face. He was the happiest little boy you could ever know, with only half a heart, his mom says.

Sadly, Jacob lost his battle to his heart disease on April 26, 2011, at the young age of six years old after having complications from another corrective heart surgery.

Since Jacob’s passing, Nicole has been an active supporter of the American Heart Association, raising funds for Heart Walk and sharing her son’s story to help pass newborn heart screening (pulse oximetry) legislation in California. She and Jacob’s father, Bryan, have been involved with the San Joaquin Heart Walk since 2011 and formed the team “Jacob’s Heart” in his memory.

Jacob was such a true inspiration to so many people and touched so many hearts during his short little life,” said Nicole. “My intent is to keep Jacob’s memory alive and make ‘Jacob’s Heart’ a recognizable icon in our community. My hope is that being involved in raising funds for the American Heart Association will help make a difference.”

Nicole and her family host an annual shrimp and pasta feed and the Jacob’s Heart Memorial Golf Tournament to raise money for the Heart Walk. In total, the team has raised more than $52,000 since its inception.

My son, Jacob, had such a huge spirit which has impacted me and so many others,” said Bryan. “I know he is looking down on us and smiling.”

Julianna, now 11, helps with the fundraising. She got her elementary school to take part in Jump Rope For Heart using the slogan “Jump For Jacob.”

“She [Julianna] had shirts made for all the kids. It was really heartwarming” Nicole said. “Jacob was our hero on earth, and he is now our angel in heaven.”

For the full story, please visit here.

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You're the Cure Advocate Pkaye Washington is Selected as National Spokesperson for Go Red for Women!

Longtime You're the Cure advocate and Grassroots Action Team Chair, Pkaye Washington, was selected as a member of this year's “Real Women,” national spokespeople for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement. These nine women from across the country will share their personal stories and encourage women to take a proactive role in their health by knowing their family history and scheduling a Well-Woman Visit.

Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year, yet it’s 80 percent preventable. One risk factor that cannot be prevented is family history. According to a recent study in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, 95.7 percent of study respondents considered knowledge of family history important to their personal health. The startling truth, though, is that only 36.9 percent reported actively collecting health information from their relatives.

“I’m living proof that knowledge is power,” said Pkaye Washington. “By knowing your family history and scheduling a Well-Woman Visit, you could be taking action today that could save your life tomorrow.”

Washington, who lives in Austin, Texas, has been living with heart disease for more than two decades. She was diagnosed with Class II heart failure in 1992, following what she thought was a bout of the flu. She’d gone to the hospital after realizing she was consistently short of breath.

It was a startling revelation for Washington, then 36, whose mother had been diagnosed with advanced heart failure and would soon need a heart transplant. Her grandmother had died from fluid around the heart when her mother was only four years old. Shock gave way to depression, followed by a resolve to make changes.

Washington now encourages women to empower themselves when it comes to their health, and to seek support from others. For the past 2 years she has supported the American Heart Association by serving as a spokesperson and an advocate for the You’re the Cure network.  She became involved with the organization when she was crowned Ms. Texas Classic and the American Heart Association was her chosen non-profit.  Currently, Washington volunteers her time as the Chair for our Austin Grassroots Action Team, where she has helped build healthier lives and communities by being a part of successful efforts to pass both state and local heart health policies. She has also been an advocate for our You’re the Cure on the Hill, traveling to Washington DC to meet with her members of Congress.
Pkaye’s story shares one common thread with the other 8 national spokeswomen– knowing your family history is important and discussing it with a health care professional is key to taking steps to prevent heart disease and stroke.

About Go Red For Women
Go Red For Women is the American Heart Association's national movement to end heart disease and stroke in women. Heart disease and stroke kill 1 in 3 women – more than all cancers combined. The good news is that 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. Women who Go Red live healthier lives. For more than a decade Go Red For Women has fought for equal health opportunity for women. We proudly wear red, share our stories of survival and advocate for more research and swifter action for women's heart and brain health. Our future is focused on changing the culture to make it easier for women and their families to live healthier lives. When it comes to beating heart disease and stroke, it’s time to put our hearts into it.  Take action at

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You're the Cure Hero: Bob Biggins

What brought you to be an advocate for the American Heart Association?

I had my stroke in 2003 while serving in the Illinois legislature. I'd already been working with the American Heart Association on health care issues so after I was able, I became a visible advocate for heart healthy issues.

What issues or policies are you most passionate about and why?

Now retired, I continue to address heart healthy matters as I serve on a study group established by the legislature to continue work begun for stroke survivors. Our work product is shared nationally with the neediest populations affected by stroke.

What is your favorite advocacy memory or experience so far and what made it great?

I work with a stroke advocacy group called SSEEO. We've initiated a new survivor- to- survivor program that has been received very positively by both providers and recipients.

What is your favorite way to be active?

I exercise at my local health facility three times a week but also keep physically busy with eight of our grandchildren living in the same house.

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable?

Banana fresh off the tree!

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Vickie Evans Fuller, Alabama

The American Heart Association Alabama Advocacy Committee consists of eleven Alabama residents from a variety of backgrounds united to advance the advocacy priorities of the organization. Throughout the fiscal year, we’ll introduce you to some of the members. Today, we’d like you to meet Vickie Evans Fuller.

How do you stay updated on current public policies in your state? AHA, the newspaper, TV and keeping the conversation going at community events

If you could help advocate for one change in your state, what would it be and why? Schools to work with the AHA to educate children at a young age to eat healthy and exercise more

What have you learned in your time being a You’re the Cure advocate? How powerful advocacy can be! I'm very happy to learn of the states that have passed laws to ensure newborns receive a pulse oximetry screening to detect heart issues.

Why would you tell a friend or family member to join You’re the Cure? Because heart disease affects everyone at some time, whether it's them or someone in their family.

Tell us one unique thing about yourself. I am currently working on my finance degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I have two daughters, one granddaughter and one grandbaby on the way in February.

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Advocate Highlight - Brianne Cassidy

At age 24, Brianne Cassidy’s personality made a 180-degree change. She went from someone who made herself sick over the thought of a job interview or public speaking, to a young lady who gained so much confidence that she uprooted from her childhood home in Suburban Seattle and moved to the city, and back to the suburbs again, ended a long-term relationship, found a new boyfriend and started her own photography business. [GH1] 

It’s a nice coming-of-age story about a young woman taking control, only there’s a cruel twist.

This overhaul came following a stroke that nearly ended her life at age 24.

After a fun day out on Puget Sound with friends in 2013, Brianne was suffering from a headache after taking a spill off of a tube attached the back of a boat. She flew four feet in the air, landing on her head and toppled across the water as if doing a cartwheel.

In the days following, the pain increased in her head and the left side of her neck. She began suffering from blurry vision in her right eye and the tips of her fingers on her right hand were numb. It wasn’t until two weeks later that the worst headache yet hit while she was at work which sent her home for the day.

She went to the doctor the next morning. A snag over insurance paying for a CT scan meant a delay of several hours, so she went home to rest. She cuddled up with Casper, her golden retriever, and fell asleep. About 20 minutes later, Casper jumped up and started running around the room, barking. He never did that.

The noise woke Brianne and she tried to get up.

Brianne could barely move and knew something was wrong. She called her mom in a panic and at first her mom thought it was joke when her words came out garbled. She quickly realized it wasn’t and headed over, also calling a neighbor who got there right away and called 9-1-1.

Doctors at a nearby hospital diagnosed the stroke and gave her the clot-busting medicine tPA before transferring her to a larger facility. At the hospital the doctor’s performed a specialized medical procedure that removes a clot from a patient’s brain. Days later Brianne was walking and talking remarkably well and she finally had relief from the terrible headache.

Up to that point, Brianne was like most people in that she thought strokes were something that happened to old people. Since her recovery, she has learned that stroke is the No. 5 killer of Americans, and a leading cause of adult disability. And, of course, that stroke can happen to anybody at any age. Brianne is now a proud volunteer for the local American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, spreading awareness about the warning signs and the facts that stroke is largely preventable, treatable, and beatable.

To see Brianne share her story and talk about stroke click here.

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