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Highlights of PA Advocacy Day 2015

On April 20, 2015, dozens of dedicated American Heart Association volunteers from across Pennsylvania converged on the State Capitol to raise awareness of important heart and stroke-related policy issues.  For a number of attendees, this was their first-ever advocacy day, and they found it to be a very informative and rewarding experience. 

As part of the day’s event, AHA hosted a press conference focused on CPR as a graduation requirement.  In addition, we were thrilled to have the smoke-free bill sponsors, Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) and Representative Tom Murt (R-Montgomery), take part in the press conference to show their support for AHA and the clean indoor air issue. 

Throughout the day, volunteers took to the Capitol halls, speaking to Legislators and their staff on three specific issues: 

  • Tobacco Taxes.  Governor Tom Wolf has proposed to increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and levy a 40 percent wholesale tax on other tobacco products.  Study after study shows that increasing tobacco taxes reduces youth smoking, helps adult smokers quit, and reduces smoking-related deaths. 
  • Hands-only CPR Training in Schools.  AHA is leading the way to support efforts that would ensure students graduating from high school are provided with a hands-only, 30-minute CPR training.  We believe that learning the basic skill of physically administering CPR will ensure every high school graduate is ready to step up and save a life.
  • Clean Indoor Air.  For many years, AHA has supported strengthening Pennsylvania’s smoke-free law, known as the “Clean Indoor Air Act.”  The law was enacted in 2008 and contains over a dozen exemptions, far more than any surrounding state.  These workplaces, where smoking is permitted, exposes Pennsylvania workers, and the public, to the dangers of secondhand smoke.  Legislation has been introduced in the House (House Bill 682) and the Senate (Senate Bill 567) that would remove the exemptions. 

The efforts of our volunteers truly made an impact in Harrisburg!  Their involvement, personal stories and engagement are an important part of how we fulfill our mission of building healthier lives, free from cardiovascular disease and stroke.


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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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South Dakota Youth Advocate in Washington D.C.

Reagan Spomer, a youth advocate for the American Heart Association, recently traveled to Washington DC to help First Lady Michelle Obama plant the White House vegetable garden.  Reagan was chosen to participate in this event because she sits on the national board of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  The goal of the project is to encourage youth to get involved in gardening and to encourage including vegetables as part of a healthy, daily diet.  For more on this story, CLICK HERE. 

Reagan will travel to Washington D.C. again in May to participate in the AHA's National Lobby Day where she and her Mom, Lynn Spomer, will visit with our congressional delegation about child nutrition and to encourage the continuation of guidelines that improve the nutrition of school lunches.  They will also advocate for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health for research. 


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Upper Midwest Obesity Rates Trimmed by Minnesota!

Check out this press release from the Minnesota Department of Health! Way to go Minnesota!

Minnesota has outperformed nearby states by being the only one of its neighbors to bend the curve on obesity rates, according to a recent MDH analysis of CDC data.

Minnesota’s adult obesity rates have held constant since 2008, while rates continued climbing nationally and in nearby states. Minnesota was the only state in the region, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa, to succeed at bringing its obesity rate below 26 percent. Minnesota’s rates have stayed below 26 percent since 2010, while according to the most recent 2013 CDC data, neighboring states have seen their rates climb to the range of 29 to 31 percent.

In addition, the number of Minnesotans at a healthy weight in 2013 has increased by more than 60,000 compared with 2010. This is more than 11 percent higher than the U.S. as a whole. By keeping obesity rates flat in Minnesota, MDH estimates savings of $265 million in statewide obesity-related medical expenses incurred as of 2013.  Continue reading here

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How do we become a CPR Smart School?

You've asked...and we're answering!  Everyone is buzzing about how to receive AHA's CPR Smart School designation in New York.  It's easy...a district just needs to implement a written policy that calls for students to learn CPR (yup, that includes performing compressions) and about AEDs.  The policy must ensure all students learn this lifesaving skill prior to graduation.  School districts can decide the grade level and class that works best for them.  It's that simple.

Do you want to apply to become a CPR Smart School?  Simply email for more information and an application.

Here's to everyone becoming CPR Smart!

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A Great Week for CPR in Schools!

This week, the State Education Department (SED) issued the highly anticipated CPR in Schools Report to the Board of Regents.  Following the presentation, the Regents openly discussed including CPR and AED instruction in the curriculum.  And the support from the Board of Regents was overwhelming!  Members noted the costs are likely lower than presented in the SED report. Other comments included:

 “Yes, great thing to do..”

“…Wholeheartedly support”

“This is something that can save lives.”

“…who wouldn’t support this”

“To save one life warrants the expense.”

 Board members were clearly moved by the outreach from all of you!  This included the action alerts, letters and media advocacy!

Today, the report was on the agenda as a discussion item.  Following the recommendations from today’s meeting, the next step is to make it “official” thru regulations. 

  • SED staff has been directed to develop regulations to present to the Board of Regents for next month’s meeting.
  • The regulations will then be published for public comment (as required by law for regulations).
  • Following the public comment period, the Board of Regents can officially adopt the regulations on CPR/AEDs in Schools.

Thanks to everyone for staying with us thru this long journey!  We will continue to send letters to thank the Regents for their support and commitment until the regulations are formally adopted.  And we hope many of you will join us at the State Education Building for the final vote!

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Congratulations to Shenendehowa on becoming the Capital Region's first CPR Smart School District!

Nine out of 10 victims of sudden cardiac arrest die. If you live in the Shenendehowa Central School District, your chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest might be higher than average, since students in that district all learn Hands-Only CPR before graduation. Teaching CPR is part of the district’s formal policy. The American Heart Association has recognized Shenendehowa as the first school district in the Capital Region as a CPR Smart School. Shen students clicked to the beat on Stayin' Alive to show just how easy it is to perform Hands-Only CPR. 

 “It’s our great pleasure to recognize Shenendehowa as a CPR Smart School,” said Bob Elling, paramedic and chair of the New York State Advocacy Committee of the American Heart Association. “We know that having CPR performed doubles or triples the chances of survival for victims of sudden cardiac arrest. On Monday, members of the New York State Board of Regents expressed support for CPR in Schools, and are now calling for regulations so that all New York students learn Hands-Only CPR before graduation. Shenendehowa has shown great foresight – and concern for its citizens – by creating an army of lifesavers in this district before law requires it.”

 To qualify for the American Heart Association’s CPR Smart program, school districts must implement a written policy whereby students learn CPR and AED use prior to graduation. 

Sudden cardiac arrest survivor Jeff Keene also shared his story of being saved by CPR.  And his wife also shared what it was like to watch.  “On Christmas day, 2007, while at church, my husband went into cardiac arrest.  Within minutes, he could have died,” said Julie Keene, who works for the Shenendehowa Central School District.  “Because one person, a complete stranger, had the courage and knowledge to begin CPR on him, he is alive and thriving today.”

 “As a district, we have a firm commitment to providing our students with a wide variety of experiences and skills,” said Dr. Oliver Robinson, superintendent of Shenendehowa Central School District. “The ability for them to save a life by learning CPR is of tremendous value. We applaud the efforts of the American Heart Association to make this a given component of the school curriculum.”

 "Clifton Park & Halfmoon Emergency Corps is proud to partner with the Shenendehowa School District in providing CPR and AED training to its staff, which will strengthen Shenendehowa's solid commitment to their student and staff safety,” said Eric Hanchett of Clifton Park Halfmoon EMS, who has worked with Shen staff on training students in Hands-Only CPR. “By translating our real life experience and expertise, we can offer simplified, Hands-Only CPR & AED training, creating empowered students who will be ready and confident to take life-saving action when needed. We are excited about this collaboration and the potential we have to build a safer community together."

 The student were led by their Health Education teacher, Pam Woloszyn. 

“As a health educator, we have a responsibility to not only teach students the skills to perform CPR, but first and foremost to make them feel empowered to step in and ACT!” said Pamela Woloszyn. “Hands-Only CPR truly gives everyone the opportunity to save a life and that’s what I try to inspire students to do.  Through empowerment and inspiration comes engagement and the students feel they truly can make a difference and help others in a time of crisis.”

 “The district has provided education in CPR and AED for over 15 years,” said Rebecca Carman, director of policy and community development for the Shenendehowa Central School District. “This is a program that has little cost to the district. CPR is a life skill that every student should be exposed to.”

Thanks to all the students, board members, teachers, school administrators and Dr. Robinson for supporting this lifesaving lesson!

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Update: Relief for stroke survivors

I have mixed news to share about our efforts to repeal Medicare’s caps on outpatient therapy services. Late Tuesday night, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that we hoped would include Senators Cardin’s and Vitter’s bipartisan amendment to permanently repeal the therapy caps. Unfortunately, the amendment fell a few votes short of the 60 votes needed to pass.

The good news, however, is that included in the bill is an “exceptions” process that allows patients to continue to be able to access therapy services over and above Medicare’s limits for the next two years. The President is expected to sign the bill in the next couple days.

Even though the bill does not repeal the therapy caps, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate is now on record in support of the repeal for the first time ever! Moreover, a two-year reprieve is great news for stroke survivors. We could not have achieved this without the hard work of each of you and we should be proud of this accomplishment. And we will continue to fight to repeal the caps once and for all.

Thank you for the actions you take to ensure the priorities of heart and stroke patients are kept in front of our nation’s decision-makers.

You make a difference.

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Thank You for Everything You Do!

It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week this week (April 12 – 16) – and with that thought on our minds, we wanted to tell you how much we appreciate you, and all that you do for You’re the Cure initiatives all across the East Coast.

We appreciate every single alert response, every call, every visit you have made to your lawmakers and elected officials. We appreciate you joining us in conference rooms across our division as we train you on different state policies and how to be an engaged advocate. We appreciate those who serve on our Advocacy Committees, putting in long hours in meetings and on calls as you help us shape our grassroots plans.

We appreciate you, and we appreciate your time and all you do as a partner of the American Heart Association. In case you ever forget, every little thing – both large and small – makes a difference!

Every Little Thing you do

as a You’re the Cure advocate helps,

and we appreciate you!

 THANK YOU for all you do.

Just a note: If you haven't joined our advocacy network yet, it's never too late! Just visit us at and become a You're the Cure member. It only takes a few moments to sign up, but you'll help make a difference that will last through the years!

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