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Women Deserve Equality in Health Too!

Did you know most medical research done today is still conducted using only male subjects? That means lots of unanswered questions when it comes to the best treatment for women with heart disease. Well now lawmakers are working to fix the problem by proposing a law requiring all National Institutes of Health basic research to include female subjects. To grow support for the proposal lawmakers need to hear from you asking for support of the Research for All Act. The next time a friend or loved one faces a diagnosis of heart disease we want to be sure she has the best possible treatment no matter her gender. So please take a minute and send your message to lawmakers now.

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You're the Cure on the Hill 2015 update

Since You’re the Cure on the Hill, there have been several developments around our efforts to protect strong school nutrition standards and push for more funding for heart disease and stroke research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In the next few months, Congress will be reviewing legislation on school meals, with the House and Senate expected to debate the issue later this month and in July, prior to August recess. We’ll be getting in touch with you then to let you know how to capitalize on in-person meetings with your representatives and Senators when they’re back home. If you haven’t told your lawmakers why healthy school meals are so important, click here to do so in less than 60 seconds.

You can also check out our videos featuring AHA CEO Nancy Brown’s visit to Charles Rice Elementary in the Dallas Independent School District, a national leader on successfully meeting the standards, as well as a video featuring our youth advocate all-star Genna Ringler. And please make sure your friends and family know that all their questions on the importance of this issue can be answered at www.heart.org/SchoolMeals!

For NIH funding, here’s the latest:

Congressional appropriations: In the next few weeks, both House and Senate appropriations committees will propose funding levels for NIH. We are hoping to see an increase, but won’t know until the proposals are made public. Stay tuned!

21st Century Cures Act and NIH Innovation Fund: The U.S. House of Representatives is working on bill called the 21st Century Cures Act. One part of the bill would provide a much needed boost of money for the National Institutes of Health by creating the “NIH Innovation Fund”.  Specifically, the Fund would allocate an additional $8.75 billion for new, innovative NIH research over a five year period or $1.75 billion a year. The House is expected to debate and vote on this legislation in the near future. Many aspects of the larger bill are still being worked out, but we are encouraged that it may provide more funding for medical research. Check back for more details.

NIH Senate Caucus:  In late May, Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) formed the bipartisan NIH Senate Caucus.  The goal of the caucus is to boost NIH’s funding, which has seen a 20% decrease in purchasing power over the years. Currently, there are 16 Senators in the caucus.

  • Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Co-Chair
  • Richard Durbin (D-IL), Co-Chair
  • Jerry Moran (R-KS)
  • Roger Wicker (R-MS)
  • Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
  • Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
  • Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Gary Peters (D-MI)
  • Angus King (I-ME)
  • Edward Markey (D-MA)
  • Al Franken (D-MN)
  • Brian Schatz (D-HI)
  • Thom  Tillis (R-NC)

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Volunteers Urge Congress to Increase Access to Telestroke

In February of 2014 Nancy Lowman woke up with a sharp pain in her neck and distorted vision. After feeling nauseous and with symptoms continuing, Nancy decided to go to a nearby hospital in Hickory, NC. Staff there thought she was having a stroke, but without a neurologist on site, they weren’t sure how to proceed.

Luckily, the medical center was part of the North Carolina telestroke network. Staff were able to virtually connect, via a robot, with a neurologist 60 miles away at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, who diagnosed Nancy with a stroke and prescribed a clot-busting drug. Nancy walked out of the hospital 48 hours later.

Last month Nancy and her nurse Danielle traveled to Washington, DC to tell their story and urge Congress to make telestroke care more accessible.

What is telestroke?

Stroke telemedicine, now commonly referred to as “telestroke,” is the use of videoconferencing to give urgent care to those having a stroke. Specialists are provided with timely data to assist clinicians at the bedside in stroke-related decision making for patients at hospitals that do not have a stroke neurologist available around the clock. 

Time is of the essence in treating stroke: For a typical stroke patient, 1.9 million brain cells die for each minute that a stroke goes untreated. Research shows that the quicker a patient receives treatment with the clot-busting drug, the better the odds of a full recovery.

In Nancy’s case, by using telestroke technology, a neurologist at another hospital was able to quickly diagnose her condition and guide Nancy’s doctors and nurses in administering the clot-busting medication. Nancy and her nurse are convinced that if her treatment had been delayed, she would not have walked out of the hospital just two days later without any lasting disability.

In simple terms, telestroke improves patient lives by preventing serious, long-term disability.

Why doesn’t every hospital utilize telestroke technology?

Current federal law states that Medicare will only reimburse hospitals who perform a telestroke consultation if the patient is located in a rural hospital. However, over 90% of strokes occur in suburban and urban areas. Nancy’s hospital in Hickory is not considered by Medicare to be rural so the stroke experts who diagnosed her from Winston-Salem are not paid for the care they provide to Medicare beneficiaries having a stroke. This lack of reimbursement is a barrier for the majority of Medicare patients needing timely telestroke care.

What can be done to increase access to telestroke care?

The easiest solution is to allow Medicare to reimburse the hospital for a telestroke consultation, regardless of where the patient lives. Not only would this increase access to telestroke and improve patient outcomes, but it would also save money by reducing the need for more costly inpatient rehabilitation or long-term care.

How can you help?

There is a bill in Congress call the FAST (Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine) Act. This bill would expand Medicare’s coverage of telestroke services. Right now we need as many lawmakers as possible to cosponsor this bill to show support for increasing telestroke access. Ask you members of Congress to cosponsor the FAST Act today!

 

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A Winning Game for School Lunches and Research Funding!

At You’re the Cure on the Hill 2015, more than 380 AHA advocates and staff from all 50 states, plus DC —and thousands more back home—stepped up to the plate for healthy school lunches and medical research funding. This year, our Hill day theme was built off the great American game of baseball, something that could resonate with advocates and lawmakers alike and give them a rallying cry for the event: Step Up to the Plate! It was an invitation from advocates to lawmakers, asking them to get off the bench and into the game. And they knocked it out of the park.

It was one of our most exciting days on the Hill with a combination of passionate advocates meeting face-to-face with their lawmakers and thousands of supportive voices from around the country who backed them up with phone calls, emails, tweets and Facebook posts. Together, our voices hit a home run for healthy school meals and heart and stroke research funding.

Advocates conducted 293 meetings with lawmakers, asking them to protect the progress made by the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act and support school nutrition standards. At the same time, advocates asked lawmakers to make heart disease and stroke research a national priority by increasing the budget of the National Institutes of Health.

Meanwhile, advocates back home around the country jumped in as pinch hitters to call and email their members of Congress and ask them to Step Up to the Plate. Capitol Hill received over 6,218 messages from constituents back home.

Throughout the day, we had so many all-star advocates who made the views, passions and needs of constituents known to their lawmakers in new and compelling ways. On top of that, we had two Congressional Award Winners who rounded out the team: Sen. Crapo (R-ID) and Sen. Mikulski (D-MD). They received the American Heart Association’s National Public Service Award, which has been granted biennially since 1982 to members of Congress who have actively promoted our mission. We are so thrilled to have their support!

Below is a snapshot of our day!

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You're the Cure on the Hill - A Youth's Perspective

Today we'd like to introduce one of our youth advocates, Michelle Ballasiotes. Michelle attended our You're the Cure on the Hill this week, and shared her story with Congress. Read on below and hear about her experience on Capitol Hill. Take it away Michelle!

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Hi, I am Michelle Ballasiotes and this week I joined over 380 AHA advocates and staff from across the country in Washington, DC for You’re the Cure on the Hill 2015. We were in D.C. to "Step Up to the Plate" for healthy school meals and medical research funding. It was two very exciting days where I met so many wonderful and passionate advocates who were ready to share our message with Congress.

Here are some highlights from my trip.

Monday - A Day to Learn about the Issues

On Monday while the adults attended their training sessions, I was able to participate in an engaging youth training led by Kim and Andrea from Youth Empowered Solutions. They first provided us with background information about the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act and NIH Medical Research Funding. One surprising thing that I learned was that the initial reason for healthier school meals was because kids were not receiving the proper nourishment they needed and were even too skinny to join the army! Since then, it has become even more important for kids to have healthy options at school.

It was important for us to learn about the history and important facts of each of our issues, because we wanted to be able to confidently share what we learned with our members of Congress. We also practiced how to incorporate our personal story into our asks of Congress. By personalizing the issues, we learned that our ask becomes much more powerful.

As a reward for a hard day's work, we learned how to make a quick and easy apple cobbler. Which taught us that it's okay to have healthy desserts in moderation. It was a delicious break during our training! 

Another important part of our training was learning about the important role that social media plays in emphasizing our message. Many of our Senators and Representatives are on social media, and they listen to the things we have to say. We were able to share the hashtag, #StepUp4HeartHealth, throughout the event and see it make a real impact. So remember, hashtags have power!

The next big event on Monday was the Heroes Luncheon, which featured an actual school meal served on fun, red lunch trays. The taco salad was delicious!

It was also so awesome to see two fellow North Carolinians receive national awards! My friend, Cassidy Collins, won the National Youth Advocate of the Year Award and Dr. David Huang received the National Science Advocate of the Year. It was great to see the passion that many North Carolina advocates share for the American Heart Association!

I learned so much on Monday and felt prepared to take what I learned and share it on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Tuesday - Time to turn Capitol Hill RED

To start off the morning, I led a few youth advocates onto the stage at the send-off breakfast. We were able to share some of what we learned during our previous day's training with everyone. It was great to provide a quick recap for the whole group before we made our way up to Capitol Hill to meet with our members of Congress.

My first meeting was with Senator Tillis and his staff. It went great! We were actually able grab a few minutes with the Senator himself. I found it very helpful to know some background on each member of Congress ahead of time. It let me know what points will persuade them the most.

During my day on Capitol Hill, I learned that every meeting on the Hill goes differently and you have to be prepared for anything. For example, during our meeting with Representative Hudson, his staff brought up some interesting points about medical research funding and how we measure results. I also learned that Hill staff members may be new and are just trying to absorb everything we told them. Which was okay, because we were prepared to answer all of their questions and were able to educate them on our issues.

The rest of our meetings went great and I am confident we hit a home run on Capitol Hill!

Why Did I Attend You're the Cure on the Hill 2015? - My story

I attended You're the Cure on the Hill because I suffered a stroke before I was even born. As a result of my stroke, I have been able to work with the American Heart Association. I want to be a strong advocate for more awareness of cardiovascular disease and the policies that influence positive change. This year, I was able to be a powerful voice in advocating for more NIH medical research funding, because the cause of my stroke is still unknown. If we don't know what causes strokes in kids, how can we prevent them?  Also, by being a youth myself, I was able to share my personal experience of why keeping healthy school meal standards strong is important to kids like me!

Being on Capitol Hill is always such a thrill for me. I love seeing people's faces when they see the sea of red and know it is the American Heart Association. It's also wonderful to show Congress that youth have a voice and we are not afraid to express our opinions.

Each year I attend Lobby Day is different, but it's always exciting. I've done National Lobby Day six times and I can't wait until the next event! I love reconnecting with old friends and meeting new people.

 

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Help Us Send a Wake Up Call

With You’re the Cure on the Hill 2015 fast approaching, we want you to know that you don’t have to be in Washington to make an impact. On May 11th and 12th, we’ll be working with advocates from all 50 states to contact their representatives and urge support for the common-sense, heart-healthy policies we need to reduce and eliminate cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The best part is, all you need to join in is your phone.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be letting you know about a quick, easy, fun way to connect with your lawmakers, friends, and family, and to share why being a You’re the Cure advocates is so important to you. After pledging online to take action, you’ll receive a text message on May 11th with a phone number that will automatically put you in touch with your Member of Congress. After hearing a few key points about why strong school nutrition standards and increased NIH funding are our top priorities, you’ll be patched through to deliver your message personally.

We’ll also be asking you to weigh in on social media, letting your representatives know directly that we’re here to support them on key issues, and hold them accountable when they fall short. The best part is, You’re the Cure advocates from across the country will be visiting congressional offices at the same time, delivering our pro-heart health message in person. We know that with our combined efforts, 2015 will be the best You’re the Cure on the Hill yet. Thanks for your support, and stay tuned for more.

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Update on Stroke Therapy Caps

In the last few months, You’re the Cure advocates have spoken loud and clear. Together, we have sent 9,700 messages to Congress urging them to repeal harmful caps on Medicare therapy once-and-for-all.

Much has happened in the last couple weeks, so I wanted to give you an update and let you know that your voice is still needed!

Just recently, the House of Representatives passed a bill that extends the Medicare therapy caps exceptions process for the next two years. If this provision makes it to the President’s desk, Medicare beneficiaries who experience a stroke or other conditions requiring outpatient therapy could rest assured knowing that they would have access to the crucial rehabilitation needed to help in their recovery for two more years.

However, Congress can and should do better. Although temporary relief is better than none at all, we need to keep up the fight for a full repeal!

The bill now moves to the Senate. We are hoping the Senate will amend the bill to repeal the therapy caps once-and-for-all. But we need your help. In order to rally support for this amendment, Senators need to hear from you!

Will you contact your Senators and ask them to support a full repeal of Medicare therapy caps?

 

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Nutrition Across the Nation

With National Nutrition Month underway, we’re excited to launch a new website about an issue that’s close to every parent’s heart: Step Up to the Plate for School Meals. Since Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, our kids are eating more whole grains, being served less salt, and getting the fruits and vegetables they need to excel in the classroom.

Step Up to the Plate features success stories from the more than 93 percent of schools already meeting the new standards, like Anne Frank Elementary in Philadelphia, where Principal Mickey Komins and his staff are committed to helping students make healthy eating a lifelong habit. Our Nutrition Across the Nation map helps you see how your state measures up in terms of the number of students participating in the national school lunch and breakfast programs, and what we can do to help schools serve the most nutritious, delicious meals possible.

Most important of all, Step Up to the Plate makes it easy to contact your lawmakers to tell them why it’s so important that they re-authorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Studies have shown that students consume up to 50 percent of their daily caloric intake at school. Strong nutrition standards help provide a balanced diet that will let students grow and learn in the healthiest way possible. We know that for some kids, the breakfast and lunch they get at school is the only nutritious meal they receive.

At a time when 30 percent of children ages 2-19 years are considered overweight or obese, Congress needs to do whatever it can to ensure we’re fighting this national epidemic. Take action today, share with your friends on social media, and help us spread the word that on school meals, the time to step up is now!

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What you need to know about the latest nutrition guidelines

We would like to introduce Suzie Sodium. She is a registered dietitian who is regularly posting content and updates over at www.sodiumbreakup.heart.org.

Take it away Suzie!

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In the American Heart Association’s quest to help Americans build healthier lives, promoting healthy eating habits is a key strategy. Because nutrition recommendations are based on the best evidence available, they shift over time. As we gather more evidence and use new research techniques, we get an increasingly clearer picture of what a healthy diet should look like.
 
One of the most important sources of nutrition guidance for our country is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). By law, this document is updated every 5 years. It is jointly published by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA). The DGAs give us advice about what to eat for optimal health, according to the latest science.

The DGAs are used for much more than just educating the public about healthy eating. They help the federal government set nutrition standards for school meals, child care centers, and food assistance programs. Federal food and nutrition education programs are based on the DGAs. They also impact the information provided by nutrition facts panels and other nutrition labeling on food packages. Doctors, dietitians, and other healthcare providers use the guidelines as the basis for the nutrition guidance they provide to patients. As you can see, the guidelines have a broad impact.

So how do these guidelines come to be? In the first stage of the process, the government appoints a committee of the nation’s top experts in nutrition and chronic disease prevention. This group is called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The committee reviews the previous edition of the DGAs as well as any new evidence that’s been published in the meantime. They also hear from expert guest speakers and consider oral and written comments from the public. The committee then writes a scientific report with its recommendations and submits it to the federal government.

Today, the committee’s report to the federal government was released to the public. The report emphasized an overall healthy eating pattern with lower levels of salt, saturated fat, and added sugars than Americans’ current diets. It described a healthy eating pattern as rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish/seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in non- and low-fat dairy products and alcohol; lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains (i.e., grains that are stripped of some of their nutrients and thus are not whole grains). Overall, the American Heart Association says that the report’s recommendations are a shift in the right direction, and if accepted by HHS and USDA, will help steer the public toward a more heart-healthy path in their daily diets.

Over the rest of this year, HHS and USDA will use the advisory committee’s science report to create the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They will also consider comments from others in the government and from the public as they develop the final report. Stay tuned to learn more about what the final guidelines will say, and what they will mean for your food choices.

Do government nutrition guidelines influence the food choices you make for yourself or your family?

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