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Advocate Spotlight: Cassandra Welch

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

I wanted to get involved with American Heart Association, because I have hypertension and members of my family have heart disease.

 

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

Hypertension, Stroke and Cardiac Arrhythmia

 

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

Working the American Heart Association advocacy booth and passing out information on the importance of daily physical education in schools at several events.

 

What is your favorite way to be active? 

Providing information about how members of my family have dealt with hypertension, strokes, atrial fibrillations, and encouraging children & adults to increase their exercise time.

 

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable? 

Spinach

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Advocate Spotlight: Meet Rory!

Meet RORY, the lifesaving lion and KING of the Zoo Crew! 

Did you know that a lion’s roar can be heard from five miles away?  This year, Jump Rope For Heart and Hoops For Heart students will be challenged by RORY to make a difference and share their ROAR for heart health loud and clear!  Students and staff can ROAR like Rory by:

  1. Taking their own heart health challenge
  2. Sharing the heart health challenge with family and friends and encouraging them to pass it on.  

The more people they reach, the LOUDER their ROAR!

What will you do to be heart healthy this year? Let us hear you ROAR!!                        

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Advocate Spotlight: Angie Jorgensen

Angie Jorgensen Nebraska

My wonderful husband, Jon and I together have 4 great children—Alexis, now 21; Garrett, 19; Josh, 15 and Justin 12.  Our daughter is working and planning for more school.   All 3 boys are currently playing football, and we are going to be cheering at lots of games this Fall!  We have a busy family life and feel enormously blessed.

In addition to being a wife and mother, I work full time as a Sales Director and I have instructed group fitness classes for over 25 years.  I’ve run 8 marathons.  I feel like I’ve taken great care of my health through the years, though I admit to embracing chocolate as the 5th food group :)

On December 7th, 2012, I woke up feeling awful.  I thought I had the flu, but soon I had a feeling of thunder and lightening going through my chest, and I was fighting to breathe.  My husband followed me into the bathroom where I had sank down on the floor and perhaps would have stayed.  Thankfully, my husband had cancelled a hunting trip at the last moment…the first of several divine moments to come.  Jon drove in the ditch around morning rush hour traffic in order to get me to Lakeside hospital.

Shortly after arriving at the hospital, my vitals proved something was terribly wrong.  My husband told me that before he knew it several doctors were caring for me, trying to determine the problem. After some time I coded twice, once for approximately 15 minutes before being revived with CPR.  I had gone into cardiac arrest, and at that point I had about 5% heart life, and was not expected to live.  My family was allowed to see me to say their good bye's before I was life flighted to Nebraska Medicine, in an effort to get me to higher care.  My daughter, Alexis, upon leaving the room, told my Mom not to worry because an angel told her I would be all right.  I was not expected to make the flight, but by the grace of God, I did.   

As soon as I arrived at UNMC, I was hooked up to ECMO (ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) and to another machine for kidney dialysis.  ECMO takes the place of the heart and lungs while they hopefully can recuperate, or as the bridge to a heart transplant or implementation of a device that helps the heart function.  My family was told that I could be on the ECMO machine for 2-3 weeks.  Throughout the week, the doctors searched for heart viruses, believing that was the problem.   They were evaluating for a potential heart transplant.  My organs failed, and I had at least one stroke.  

On Dec. 12th, 2012, ( yes 12-12-12!!!) my heart came back fully functional.  A ct scan of my heart and several bouts with very high blood pressure led the Doctors to see a tumor on my adrenal gland.  The tumor was feeding on the adrenal gland, basically spiking my adrenaline to 500 times the normal level a person should have, which is what threw me into cardiac arrest.  Pheochromocytoma was the medical diagnosis, which is a rare tumor of the adrenal gland.  

I woke up on December 14th, and was quite overwhelmed to hear of the events that had transpired the previous week.  I started out as an invalid, with broken ribs and a cracked sternum from the CPR.  But I was alive and right away I knew that was a miracle.  I remember my first thought was being so thankful that I was alive to go to my daughter’s upcoming graduation.  

I had pneumonia, and a blood infection.  I had another instance of blood pressure in the 270 range while awake and nearly coded again.  Each day presented challenges, but each day had a victory as well. Each day I chose to focus on the good things, rather than the negative.  

The pilots who had flown me to higher care, came to see my husband and me at NE Medicine.  They told us that they always followed up on patient flights, and had been watching for my name in the obituaries.  After they were not seeing my name there, they came to find out that I had survived and were elated to see us and tell us thank you for making their Christmas.  I told them the thank you, as I would not be here without them!

As I focused on the victories, each day got better and better.  One step turned into 5, then 10.  I regained use of my hands.  My progress surpassed the doctor's expectations.  They had told us to expect to be in the hospital at least a month.  My husband and I returned home on December 28th, 3 weeks to the day after everything had occurred.  I wore a defibrillator vest for a few months and went through cardiac rehab until I became strong enough to have surgery to have the tumor removed.  Thankfully, the tumor was benign.

I am back to my active life…. Wife, Mother, Christian, working in sales, instructing a couple of fitness classes a week, running, and cheering at lots of football and basketball games!  I have also had the privilege of being able to help out wonderful organizations like the American Heart Association.

I am forever grateful to my husband for first saving my life and for getting me to the hospital on Dec. 7th.  I am so thankful for my large medical team of Doctors, for my family, our Church, and for friends who helped support us with prayers, meals, and so much more. 

I am a blessed and grateful woman and I just want to express my abundant thanks!  My advice to pass on—

Your body is the first place that you live.  Honor it by taking care of YOU, because you can make a better difference by being healthy.   Be aware of the warning signs for heart attack and stroke.  Heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women.  The doctors told me that because my good state of health was a large reason I was able to survive such a traumatic health event….that and a miracle.  Live each day fabulously and embrace it for the beautiful gift that it is! 

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For Kids, What is Ideal Heart Health?

The road to cardiovascular disease begins in childhood, and it’s a road many American children are on, based on a new report from the American Heart Association that indicates very few kids meet all the criteria for ideal heart health.

Many are overweight or obese. Others don’t get enough exercise or have picked up smoking. But the biggest disqualifying factor was diet: Less than 1 percent of children ages 2 to 19 meet the criteria for an ideal diet, according to federal data from 2007 to 2008.

That troubling reality led the AHA to issue Thursday’s scientific statement that provides the first detailed look at ideal heart health for kids: no tobacco use, a healthy weight, at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, a healthy diet score and normal blood pressure, total cholesterol and blood sugar.

Pediatric cardiologist Thomas R. Kimball, M.D., was “shocked” when he heard so few U.S. children meet all seven criteria for ideal heart health.

For more on this story, CLICK HERE. 

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Meet Andy Martinez, Champion for Smoke-Free Workplaces

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the American Heart Association and the work that we do.  We are constantly amazed by our volunteers' commitment to advocate for healthier lives and to help save lives through policy change.  We are pleased to spotlight Andy Martinez as this month's volunteer champion.

Name: Andy Martinez

Occupation: Entrepreneur, Community Volunteer

How long have you been volunteering with the American Heart Association? Since 2007

Why do you advocate for smoke-free communities?

I personally experienced how smoking can affect one’s health…I lost my Dad when he was 54 years old due to heart disease brought on by smoking. I believe that by living in the U.S. we all enjoy rights and privileges, as long as they don’t affect the rights and privileges of others.

What is your all-time favorite thing to do on your time off?
Spend time with my family and my grandchildren (3 boys) … and playing golf.

Can you please share about the work you have been doing so far to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke via the Smoke-Free Round Rock campaign?

I have advocated on why it is important that all residents of Round Rock should be able to work, play and enjoy their family time in a healthy environment. I have been a spokesperson at the Round Rock Express Heart night, filmed a short video for the campaign, have written letters to Round Rock policy-makers as well as visited individually with elected officials and well-respected community leaders. I have also spoken on behalf of the campaign to 2 Williamson County organizations. El Amistad Club of Round Rock and Citizens for Diversity in Leadership Roles (CDLR) a civic engagement PAC.

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Meet our Volunteer of the Month: Silvia Gutierrez-Reghunath

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the American Heart Association.  We are constantly amazed by our volunteers' commitment to advocate for healthier lives and to help save lives through policy change.  We are pleased to spotlight Silvia Gutierrez-Raghunath as this month's volunteer extraordinaire. Her passion and enthusiasm shine bright! Read below to learn more about Silvia and her why: 

Name: Silvia Gutierrez-Raghunath

Occupation: Researcher II/Promotora de Salud

How long have you been volunteering with the American Heart Association?

8 years

Why do you advocate to build healthier lives and communities, free of heart disease and stroke?

Because I have a child and he is my motivation, and I want to see my grandchild living free of heart disease and stroke. Because my mother died of heart disease and my father had 4 heart attacks, because I care about my community.

What are your passions and your interests in life?

I'm passionate about making a difference and helping others. I lost my father and my mother and ever since then, I have spent time volunteering to educate others (family and community) about how we can prevent heart disease. I also love getting to know patients and survivors on a personal level. I put my heart, mind and soul into even in my smallest acts. This is my real passion!

What is your all-time favorite thing to do on your time off?

I love spending quality time with my 9 year-old-son Diego and my husband Ramesh

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Advocate Spotlight: Cindy Peterman

After 35 years of smoking, bouts with bronchitis and increasing prices, Cindy Peterman decided it was time to quit and she credits the recent price increase for tobacco products in Nevada with helping her.

 

“Last year on July 4th weekend when I went to buy cigarettes I realized with the increase I can’t do this anymore; I have rent to pay. I am so grateful for the increase. It led to me quitting for good,” said Cindy.

In addition to the tax increase, Cindy’s can-do attitude and positive outlook on life made it easier for her to quit. Prior to moving to Las Vegas to be near her son and grandkids, she owned both a restaurant and home in Texas. When the recent recession hit, Cindy lost the restaurant and then her home.

 

“After going through all that change, I thought I can make another change in my life,” she said. 

Upon deciding to quit, Cindy visited her doctor and received the patch (covered by Medicaid). While the patch has four cycles, Cindy only used it for the first cycle.

 

“I have not smoked or used the patch since,” she said.

 

Her son is overjoyed that she quit and she notes how important it is to be a good example for her grandkids. In her job at checkout at Walgreens, Cindy has discovered many of her customers are quitting since the tobacco tax increase. She shares her story to encourage them and now they have formed a small support group. Cindy also hopes by sharing her story with the AHA/ASA, she can inspire even more people to quit.

 

Most of all, Cindy is enjoying her new smoke-free life.

 

“At age 65, I enjoy having the time to start my life over,” she said.

 

Thank you, Cindy, for sharing this wonderful example of how smart, strong public health policy can positively affect the lives of individuals and communities. Keep up the good fight, Cindy!

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Katie Towle - Supporting Families and Pushing for Critical Heart Tests for Kids

Katie Towle knows there are two things that can help a child when they are born with a heart defect – a life-saving test that can help detect it, and the support of other families with children who also have heart defects.

Katie helped promote the need for mandatory pulse oximetry testing for newborns at our legislative reception this winter. She’s a big advocate because her son Jack did NOT receive this test when he was born.

Katie said then, “Had this simple, painless test been done upon birth, we may have been able to have his repair surgery months earlier and avoided so many hospital stays with over 30 nights cumulatively away from our older child, our home and our jobs. Due to the delay in his surgery, Jack’s growth was significantly delayed and his physical development fell drastically behind the national standards.”

Katie will be promoting that pulse oximetry be the standard screening adopted when the Vermont Health Department undertakes a rulemaking to require congenital heart defect screening this year.

She also just formed a cardiac kids’ support group of parents and kids with congenital heart defects. We all had a great time attending the Lake Monsters game together this summer! If you have a child with a congenital heart defect, let me know. We’d love to connect you with this wonderful group and we would also love your help in requiring this test for newborns in Vermont. My email is tina.zuk@heart.org.

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Meet Taryn Bewley, A girl with a heart for Arkansas!

Each month, we spotlight an advocate who is leading the fight for healthy communities, free of heart disease and stroke.  As we all prepare to go back-to-school it was only fitting to spotlight one of our fabulous young advocates that will be entering her senior year at Conway High School.  

Taryn Bewley recently joined the American Heart Association to visit with both Congressman French Hill and Senator John Boozman's office to talk about our top policy priorities.  We are so grateful for her passion and commitment to our mission!  Taryn, YOU ROCK!  

Please meet Miss Taryn Bewley...

Hometown: Conway, Arkansas

Favorite Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hobbies: I have been a dancer for 15 years and I enjoy competing in the Miss America Scholarship Pageant organization.

Pets: 9-year-old, long-haired miniature dachshund named Mini

Role Model: Emma Watson

Greatest Achievement: While competing in the Miss America organization and volunteering I have been able to promote my platform, Reading Matters, to improve literacy throughout the state of Arkansas. I have been able to visit over 500 schoolchildren and donate over 700 books. It is amazing to be able to impact lives this way. I have a Facebook page to promote my platform that you can check out HERE.

Someone you would like to have dinner with:  JK Rowling - She overcame such difficult circumstances to become the person she is today, and her books are amazing!! I need to know all about the characters beyond the 8th book!

How do you prepare for back-to-school?
I mentally prepare myself for school starting!! It's a process because I like school, but summer is always so perfect! I also continue to read all summer to keep up those reading and comprehension skills!

Why is advocating for the American Heart Association important to you?
I want a healthier Arkansas! Too many people suffer from heart disease and I want to do all that I can to educate Arkansans on ways they can reduce their risk. I'm determined to help in any way because heart disease affects everyone, directly or indirectly.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities with the AHA Advocacy Team in Arkansas please contact Allison Hogue at allison.hogue@heart.org.

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Erin E. Herring, CT

November 18, 1998 was the day Erin E. Herring started on her journey into the world of physicians, hospitals and fear; that was the day her son Gavin was born.  He was diagnosed with aortic stenosis and would have to have surgery before is two week birthday.  And so it began…

After a year and six different surgeries, she finally thought she could exhale…nothing could have been further from the truth.  Erin participated in her first AHA Fairfield County Heart Walk when Gavin was 3 years old.  The next year, Gavin participated as the Red Cap Ambassador for the walk and two years later, Gavin and his sisters, Hannah and Brennah traveled to Washington DC to lobby for increased funding for heart disease.  A year later, Erin and Gavin were back on Capitol Hill meeting with senators and legislators as a unified voice for increased funding.  Along the way she met with many survivors as well as those who had lost a loved ones to heart disease or stroke.  The stories were life changing.

Erin was very active as an advocate in Washington and Hartford, speaking at congressional and legislative hearings on passing the law which requires AED’s in places of business and schools.  After four years, the bill was finally passed and she and Gavin were at the signing to thank then Governor Rell personally for her support.  She is passionate about this mission and continues to advocate for CPR and AED training.  Erin was a trained member of the Emergency Management Team for the City of Norwalk and praises the City for recently providing AED’s not only at the schools, but at various other sites in the city making it a “Heart Safe Community”.

Just recently, Erin was told she had suffered a “mini-stroke” and her advocacy for raising awareness strengthened.  Her credo, so to speak, has always been “if it hadn’t been for funds raised in the past, my son might not have had a future…” and she still stands by that today.  Her mom is a survivor, her son, and now she, herself is grateful to be one as well.

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