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Advocate Spotlight: Dave Semrud

Dave Semrud North Dakota

The reality is that I've run out of excuses not to do this little history of the poor choices I had made over the years, and of my rescue by some remarkable people a lot more committed to life than I was. 

Let me start with the bad health choices I made years ago. I had a serious aversion to all types of exercise, a keen interest in a six pack plus, and I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. I never grew out of that belief in my own personal indestructability.

I remember sitting in my doctor’s office waiting for a follow-up appointment as I had recently been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. My A1C was at 6.3 or so and my triglycerides were high.  How ironic that I was sitting there reading an American Heart Association article detailing the behaviors that increase your chances for stroke or heart attack. I remember thinking that I could check the box on all but one. I chuckled to myself thinking "not going to happen to me," and grabbed a People magazine... 

I had my heart attack a year later.

Just before it happened I recall that I was having trouble doing s some fairly basic tasks like getting out my EZ chair, walking to the bathroom or opening the refrigerator. Then one night, I developed heartburn that wouldn't go away. My biggest concern at the time was whether I was going to run out of the generic antacid I was taking, and whether or not the grocery store was open all night.

My rest the night before had been strange, a little bit mystical. It was as if I was half asleep and half awake. I was aware of my being asleep but not able to go into a deeper sleep or to wake up. It was a very pleasant feeling … It almost felt like I was floating.

The next day, I couldn't lift myself out of my futon. I dragged myself over to my chair and lifted myself onto it, but I still didn't think anything was really wrong. I decided to call my sister, Karen.   

Karen asked me what had been happening and I explained to her that I had been starring out my window at the old Victorian house across the street. Suddenly, pink and blue blotches started blocking out the window I'd been looking through. I stopped and just stared out the window. Soon I heard a panicked sister asking if I was okay. I tried to explain what was happening to her as they began to vary in color and intensity. Sometimes I could see most of the house, other times very little or none at all. It fascinated me so much I stopped talking. This scared Karen and she pleaded with me to dial 911. I didn't. My denial knew no bounds. Not too long after that she buzzed my apartment.

I had to get up and walk to the buzzer to let her in. The effort completely exhausted me. It was about 12 feet from the chair to buzzer. When she opened the door I was sitting on the armrest of the couch next to the door trying to catch my breath. She quickly called 911. They asked her some questions which she asked me. After the second or third question they told her the paramedics were on the way.

When they arrived they checked me over and told me I needed to go to the hospital.

Once at the hospital, I remember being rushed into a room with a lot of people and a lot of monitors. I remember being very quickly stripped and having the heart monitors stuck on my chest.  I was rushed down the hall to the Operating Room. The staff in the O.R. communicated with me about what was happening and told me that I’d be conscious throughout the procedure and that I could watch it on the screens. 

I found out later that the procedure lasted five hours. The doctor put in three stents and did two angioplasties. I remember being wheeled out of the room.  Another sister had shown up and they both walked me to intensive care.

My sisters stayed a while and then left so I could try to sleep. The anesthesia slowly began to wear off and my emotions settled. The full gravity of what happened had not really sunk in. I don't think that even with all that had occurred that I really believed what had happened … that I had a near run-in with death … that nature had almost collected the tab from all the bad choices I had made and the years of very poor health habits.

Since then, I have replayed the whole thing in my mind whenever my motivation to change to a better lifestyle starts to wane.  It is my motivation to continue the lifestyle changes I have made for better health. 

Today, at age 63, I have quit smoking and drinking alcohol, my blood pressure is normal, I have lost 100 pounds and will soon run my fourth 5K race.  I have changed my lifestyle because of what happened, and in honor of the folks who saved my life. 
I know that my life was saved by a lot of really amazing people.  From the trauma team to the dedicated people at the Sanford Cardiac Unit, the surgeons and their teams to the nurses in intensive care to the folks at Cardiac Rehab. There were also a lot of people I never met like the ladies at the Coumadin Clinic, the RN's at Ask-A-Nurse, the 911 operators, the folks at the American Heart Association, and many others that I'll never think to mention or be able to thank.

I am sharing my story here because I want to thank everyone who played a role in saving my life.  I applaud not only the doctors and nurses who cared for me, but the amazing people who designed the procedures, the equipment, the medications used to save my life.  I will always be in awe of the X-ray equipment and those trained in how to use it, the monitors, the medications, the people who invented the procedures they used to save my life without cutting open my chest. I am grateful and I hope my story will inspire others to seek help when something doesn’t feel right.  Make changes to your habits and take care of your health. 

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How Fit Is Your Organization?

The American Heart Association recognizes employers who go above and beyond when it comes to their employees’ health. We want to reward organizations for their progressive leadership and concern for their staff. Designed to be a catalyst for positive change in American business, the program recognizes employers who champion the health of their employees by creating physical activity programs within the workplace. The program is also meant to encourage other worksites to participate and demonstrate similar physical activity practices for their employees.

The Benefits of Recognition
There’s no better benefit to offer your employees than helping them have healthier, longer lives, whether your workplace is a school, corporation, hospital or any other type of worksite. By teaming up with the American Heart Association you can help your employees get on their way to better health.

That’s why we’ve created these free tools:

  • Employee resources, such as walking and exercise programs, and healthy eating resources
  • Materials to help promote your wellness programs to employees, including the free Worksite Wellness Kit
  • A quarterly workplace wellness e-newsletter with content you may use in your own newsletters with tips for your employees that you may use in your own newsletters or email communication

What do Fit-Friendly Worksites Receive?

  • Recognition in the Honor Roll on the American Heart Association’s website
  • Recognition at local events
  • The right to use the program’s recognition seal for internal communications to employees and external communications related specifically to employment recruitment
  • A recognition plaque to display in your workplace
  • An official recognition letter from the American Heart Association
  • Consultation on workplace wellness, CPR/AED (automated external defibrillator) programs, and more

How to be Recognized
It’s easy to gain recognition for the work your organization is doing to help fight heart disease.

  • Review the requirements for recognition and gather the information needed.
  • When you’re ready to apply, visit our online application/renewal site.
  • American Heart Association staff and volunteers review your application and determine the recognition level.
  • You receive AHA resources, materials, consultation and support.
  • Each year you may renew your recognition.

The state of North Dakota also has resources available to companies to improve the health of their employees.  Launched in 2009, the North Dakota Worksite Wellness initiative is a collaborative effort between the Dakota Medical Foundation, Blue Cross, Blue Shield of North Dakota and the North Dakota Department of Health.  The goal is to get more North Dakota businesses and organizations to offer and participate in worksite wellness programs. The North Dakota Worksite Wellness Summit is coming up on Tuesday, October 13.  Click HERE for more information. 

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Return to the Kitchen, Return to Good Health

One of our strategies to enable our advocates to lead healthier lives is to provide awareness and education about the important role good nutrition plays in keeping our hearts healthy.  Healthy nutrition is vital to our health from infancy throughout the rest of our lives.  But breaking bad nutrition habits can be a challenge – and we want to help! 

November 4 is National Healthy Eating Day and we celebrate the entire month of November by hosting FREE Cooking Demonstrations for interested survivors, advocates and volunteers.  National Eating Healthy Day is an annual event celebrated on the first Wednesday in November to raise awareness of the importance of good nutrition and making the best eating decisions to reduce a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

The following Cooking Demos will be held in North Dakota:

Fargo: Wednesday, November 4, 5:30 p.m. at the Avalon Event Center, 2525 9th Avenue South, Fargo. 

The American Heart Association will be hosting a live cooking demonstration at the Avalon Event Center to show consumers how simple it can be to cook healthy, inexpensive meals for their family and friends.  The National Eating Healthy Day program is sponsored by the North Dakota Soybean Growers and will show attendees ways to put heart-healthy soy on their table this Holiday season. The event offers consumers basic cooking skills and techniques to get started and inspired – and have fun!

Other participants include Avalon Event Center Chefs, the American Heart Association, nutritionists from Sanford Health, and representatives from the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association.

Bismarck:   Thursday, November 5, 5:30 p.m. at 40 Steak + Seafood, 1401 East Interchange Avenue, Bismarck.

Chef Alan Abryzo from 40 Steak + Seafood will show consumers how simple it can be to cook healthy, inexpensive meals for their family and friends.  The National Eating Healthy Day program is sponsored by the North Dakota Beef Industry Council and will show attendees ways to put heart-healthy beef on their table this Holiday season. The event offers consumers basic cooking skills and techniques to get started and inspired – and have fun!

Other participants include Chef Alan Abryzo from 40 Steak + Seafood and the North Dakota Beef Industry Council. 

At the American Heart Association, we are passionate about healthy nutrition because obesity is an epidemic in American.  Over 149 million Americans, or 67 percent of adults 20 and older, are overweight or obese.  More Americans eating outside the home than ever before, and when people eat out, particularly at fast-food restaurants, they tend to consume more calories high in fat and sodium.  Away-from-meals also contain fewer fruits and vegetables and whole grains than foods prepared at home. 

Many Americans lack the skills to prepare home-cooked meals – we want to change that!  Most adults don’t realize they are lacking the proper skills to prepare healthy meals at home. Seven out of ten adults rated their cooking skills above average, but less than four out of ten scored above average on a basic cooking skills quiz. Join us for our Cooking demo – learn new skills, help your family eat healthier meals at home! 


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North Dakota Becomes #25!

We are excited to share that North Dakota just became the 25th state in the nation to ensure their students will graduate every year with life-saving CPR skills.  This means that North Dakota will put an estimated 7,000 life-savers into our communities each and every year. This victory was achieved by leveraging both opportunity and policy leadership.  We applaud the long list of advocates who went the extra mile to include CPR skill training in middle school in addition to high school, which doubles the training opportunity, and we applaud lawmakers in North Dakota for recognizing the importance of including this skill in high school curriculum. 

Over the past decade, AHA volunteers have successfully advanced PE as a graduation requirement, state funding for CPR in Schools, and cardiac/stroke systems of care.  So when learning that the state was about to undertake updating state PE curriculum, volunteers and staff researched and learned that state law required schools to meet or exceed state curriculum content standards for required courses -  “Each unit which must be made available under this section must meet or exceed the state content standards”.  

Armed with that knowledge, two AHA You’re the Cure advocates - state advocacy chair Amy Walters and PE teacher Amy Heuer – served on the curriculum workgroup and coordinated with AHA staff at the local and national level to construct curriculum content standards for CPR skills training.  This July 2015, those standards were approved by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  CPR skills are now within the level 1 required standards outcomes for both middle and high school curriculum.

This newest victory comes after a successful 2015 session during which AHA North Dakota advocates renewed a state appropriation for school CPR training, and extended the funding of $15 per student to not just the high school level but also to middle schools.  AHA also partnered with NDSHAPE – the statewide physical education and activity professional association – in securing a strong school CPR presence.  Continued collaboration is in the works this year for engaging all PE teachers in the state to learn the new quality PE standards which contain the CPR skill element.

Special recognition goes to youth advocate Kaycee Frey, Mandan ND, who testified for state funding and also help lead in educating statewide student council leaders on CPR in Schools.   Also leading the effort were AHA volunteers Amy Walters, Amy Heuer and Dr. Robert Oatfield, and our strong partner coalition members, NDSHAPE, ND EMS Association, and the North Dakota Cardiac System of Care.  Senate and House legislative champions made the state appropriation a reality and led to the ability to include CPR skills in new PE curriculum.  Staff members supporting this work through recent years include June Herman, policy; Pamela Miller, grassroots; Kendra Krueger, project support, and Joan Enderle, past-communications lead.  Special shout-out to South Dakota, who highlighted the potential of addressing this approach through quality PE standards work.

This policy victory, and life-saving opportunity, is an excellent example of what can be done when a common goal is identified and partners work together bringing everyone's knowledge, expertise, key legislative contacts and enthusiasm together to achieve our goal. 

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Stroke is Why

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in our country, and certainly one of the leading factors leading to disability.  Stroke is why we are laser-focused on preventing stroke, knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke, and knowing how to act immediately to get someone the care they need when stroke happens.  Stroke knows no age, gender, race or socio-economic group.  It's why we share stories of stroke survivors and the families impacted by stroke - to inspire others into action to ensure our public policy improves health outcomes when it comes to stroke.  Michelle McVeigh's story is one of inspiration and action.  Michelle McVeigh is why we do what we do.

Read Michelle McVeigh's story here. 

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Be Inspired! Share Your Story!

Share Your Story

The mission of the American Heart Association is relevant to everyone.  Every one of us has been impacted in some way by heart disease or stroke.  The impact of the AHA connects to millions of stories - stories of survival, stories of loss and families who inspired others to make a difference in fighting heart disease and stroke.  YOU have the capacity to inspire others and move them to action when it comes to reducing the impact of heart disease and stroke in our communities. 

One of the best ways to inspire others to action is to SHARE YOUR STORY!  Stories help make the connection between what it is we want to do with WHY it's important for us to do it!

Every month in The Advocacy Pulse, we share the story of a volunteer, survivor, caregiver or volunteer advocate who is using their experience to make a difference in cardiovascular disease and stroke prevention, treatment, and survival.  We know because we hear from our readers that these stories not only inspire others into action, but it lets our readers know they are not alone and that others have had similar experiences.  We hear them say that sharing their story helped to gain understanding, provide education, and encourage others to share their stories as well. 

Be INSPIRED!  Share your Story here so that we can share it with our readers.  Sharing our stories is Why, and Life is Why! 


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Back to School, Back to Good Health!

With summer drawing to a close, back-to-school season not only is a time to stock up on supplies, it’s also an opportunity to encourage kids to eat healthy, be active and avoid secondhand smoke. The AHA recognizes that a smoke-free environment can promote children’s brain development, prevent addictions and lead to healthier lifestyles later on (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  All forms of tobacco and nicotine are unhealthy — cigarettes, cigars, hookahs and e-cigarettes. So what can parents do to help ensure their kids are ready to learn when the school bell rings?  Read here for heart-healthy tips on going back to school. 

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Advocate Spotlight: ND SHAPE on New P.E. Standards

Following a year long process, the new North Dakota Physical Education Standards and Outcomes were released in July 2015.  Funds were pooled from the ND Department of Public Instruction, American Heart Association, and ND Society of Health and Physical Educators to develop and host a professional development (PD) series in 7 Regional Education Associations (REA’s) across the state.  The PD series will consist of a 4 parts which will include:

  • Pregame:  Warming Up to the Standards - Get ready for the game with an online tutorial designed to provide foundational knowledge necessary to complete the course.
  • First Half - Receive a comprehensive overview of the standards including sample standards-based tasks and activities based on best practice.
  • Half Time - During half time, use backward design to further develop curriculum content on your own with the information and guidance received in the First Half.
  • Second Half - Participate in developmental level specific curriculum development, explore core content integration, and develop strategies for advocacy for physical education.

The professional development series will be held at the following locations for any area physical education teachers.  One graduate credit through North Dakota State University will be offered.

MDEC (Minot State University), November 8, 2015, and February 2, 2016, To Register:

MREC (Career Academy, Bismarck), September 29, 2015, and February 9, 2016, To Register:

NCEC (Dakota College of Bottineau OR West Hope), October 1, 2015 and March 7, 2016, To Register:

SEEC (SEEC Loft - UND Tech Accelerator), October 13, 2015 and March 29, 2016, To Register:

RRVEC (Grand Forks - UND Tech Accelerator), October 11, 2015 and March 22, 2016, To Register:

GNWEC (Williston), September 25, 2015, and April 15, 2016, To Register:  Contact

RESP (Dickinson State University - Student Center Ballroom), September 22, 2015 and April 12, 2016, To Register:

The trainings are funded by ND SHAPE, Jump Rope for Heart, Hoops for Heart, and our ND Department of Instruction (Health Division). 

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Social factors could erase gains in heart disease, stroke

Although deaths from heart attacks and strokes have been declining thanks to advances in prevention and treatment, social factors such as race and income could reverse that trend, according to a first-of-its-kind statement from the American Heart Association.

The incidence of heart disease and stroke in the United States is expected to rise 10 percent by 2030, with the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age all partly to blame, the statement said.

Click here to read the rest of the article on our site!


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Physical Education and CPR Training: Skills for a Lifetime

The American Heart Association strongly advocates for quality physical education as we believe the quality and quantity of physical education in our schools is an important part of a student’s comprehensive, well-rounded education program and a means of positively affecting life-long health and well-being.  The AHA supports more frequent, quality physical education in all our schools.

A Startling Statistic

According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, nearly 50% of US adults and 65% of adolescents do not currently get the recommended amount of physical activity each day.  And only 5% report any kind of vigorous activity.  It’s no wonder the obesity rate among adults and children continues to soar.  The obesity rate for American youth today is nearly 20% compared to 7% in 1980.  With advances in technological and hand-devices, it’s not surprising that many youth are increasingly sedentary throughout their day, meeting neither physical education nor national physical activity recommendations.

The Current State of Affairs

Physical education in schools has been decreasing in recent years.  Only 3.8% of elementary, 7.9% of middle, and 2.15% of high schools provide daily physical education or its equivalent for the entire school year.  Sadly, twenty-two percent of schools do not require students to take any physical education at all. 

Why Does P.E. Matter?

Increased time being physically active increases students’ aerobic and physical fitness.  The benefits of a comprehensive school physical education curricula are experienced across diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, among boys and girls, elementary and high school students, and in urban and rural settings.  Studies show that physical education program can improve risk factors in students who are exhibiting early signs of chronic disease. 

Physical fitness can have a positive impact on cognitive ability, avoiding tobacco use, and reducing insomnia, depression and anxiety.  Physically fit children have higher scholastic achievement, better classroom behavior, greater ability to focus, and less absenteeism than their less fit peers. 

The optimal physical education program enhances the physical, mental, social and emotional development of all children and helps them understand, improve, and maintain physical well-being.  It is the cornerstone for other physical activity opportunities during the school day.  We recommend 150 minutes per week of physical education at the elementary level, and 225 minutes per week of physical education at the middle and high school level. 

What’s Happening in North Dakota? 

The superintendent of schools has approved new P.E. standards for the state of North Dakota which took effect on August 1, 2015.  These new standards will help integrate more activity and movement through the school day for North Dakota students.  The standards will measure student’ competency and understanding in a wide variety of sports and physical activities.  In addition to specific sports skill standards, there are also more conceptual requirements related to personal and social behavior, as well as standards for recognizing the relationship between physical activity and overall health and well-being. 

CPR Instruction

The new P.E. standards will also include the instruction of CPR skills in the required High School P.E. curriculum.  In addition, CPR skill instruction is within the 6 – 8th grade curriculum.  The AHA strongly supports all students be required to learn the life-saving skill of hands-only CPR prior to high school graduation.  The AHA has worked with legislators over the past 3 years and the last 2 sessions to gain support for CPR as a high school graduation requirement.  With strong funding support by the legislature, now every student in North Dakota will have the opportunity to learn how to save a life.  The new P.E. standards inclusion of CPR as a core skill provided an excellent place for this instruction to occur.  The AHA applauds the efforts of P.E. teachers and the Regional Education Associations for their leadership on improving P.E. standards and including CPR instruction in those standards. 

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