American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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Callie Ponder, Rhode Island

Callie Ponder began working with the American Heart Association at the end of May 2016. Her role with the organization is an Associate Regional Campaign Manager for the Pawtucket/Central Falls ANCHOR (Accelerating National Community Health Outcomes through Reinforcing Partnerships) grant, funded by the CDC and aimed at reducing obesity. She will be with us until the end of September.

Callie recently graduated with a BS from Rhode Island College in Community Health and Wellness, with a concentration in Public Health. Previously, she received a BS in Exercise Science from the University of RI and a specialization in Health Care Administration from Rhode Island College. Callie’s most recent work experience was at the RI Department of Health under the Community, Health, and Equity Division as a family planning intern. She also assisted with our Providence ANCHOR grant (year 1 of the project) by assessing the foods and beverages sold at a hospital and several worksites. Her work at Care New England Health System laid the foundation for the implementation of a system-wide policy requiring the vending machine supplier to adhere to American Heart Association nutrition guidelines.

Callie and her husband of two years are sponsored racquetball players who travel to tournaments within the New England area and occasionally around the country. She enjoys reading, watching movies and television shows, and spending time with family and friends. One of her favorite things to do is to sit on the rocks near the ocean at Beavertail Park in Jamestown, RI to watch the sunset with her husband.

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Rhode Island Advocates Celebrate Successful Legislative Session

The 2016 RI Legislative Session wrapped up on June 18th. Lawmakers passed hundreds of bills in the frenzied final days of session. Thanks to the passion, commitment and advocacy of our You’re the Cure advocates, we are celebrating a very successful year at the State House!

Below is a quick recap of the session:

  • School Nutrition Bill Approved – Our bill that would update Rhode Island’s school nutrition standards to ensure that we meet – and continue to exceed – new federal guidelines for snacks and beverages sold in schools was approved by the House and Senate and is heading to Governor Raimondo’s desk.
  • Biking/Recreation Bond Referendum Approved – The Governor’s proposed Green Economy/Biking/Recreation Bond Referendum was included in the budget approved by the House and Senate. The bond referendum will now go on the November Ballot. If approved by voters, it will provide millions of dollars for bikeway development, recreation and parks. 
  • 25-Cent Cigarette Tax Increase Defeated – The Governor’s proposed 25-cent cigarette tax increase was NOT included in the final budget.  The AHA and our partners strongly opposed the 25-cent increase because it was too small to have a public health impact and no money was dedicated to prevention and cessation programs (which remain woefully underfunded). 
  • AEDs in Schools Bill Approved – The House and Senate approved a bill that will require AEDs in all public and private middle and high schools in the state.  AEDs will also be required at school-sponsored athletic events and someone trained in the use of the AED must also be present.  This bill was championed by one of our amazing volunteers who has a son with a congenital heart defect – it truly highlights how a passionate advocate can inspire change! The AHA was happy to support this important bill and provide strategic guidance along the way. This bill also heads to the Governor’s desk.
  • CPR in Schools Funding Progress – We are still working to secure funding to purchase new CPR equipment for all high schools in the state to help implement the CPR in Schools Law. We have made progress over the past couple of months and are working with Governor Raimondo’s staff to identify potential funding sources.
  • Healthy School Advertising Bill Stalled – Our bill that would ensure only healthy foods and beverages are advertised and marketed to children on school property stalled in the final days of session. The measure had passed the Senate, but didn’t make it through the House. We worked really hard on this proposal and this is by far the biggest disappointment of the session. We will plan to meet with the House Leadership prior to the 2017 session to identify and address concerns. 

Questions? Contact Megan Tucker, Director of Government Relations at (401) 228-2331 or

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American Heart Association Highlights Partnership with Providence Public School District

We are very excited to share a new report entitled “Providence Teachers Learn How to Get Kids Moving” that highlights our recent work with the Providence Public School District (PPSD).  This work was part of the American Heart Association’s Accelerating National Community Health Outcomes through Reinforcing Partnerships (ANCHOR) grant, funded by the CDC and aimed at reducing obesity.  We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Jennifer Quigley-Harris, the PPSD Wellness Coordinator, who was a wonderful partner and collaborator.  This campaign would not have been possible without her dedication and support.

Click the following link to view the report: (Please visit the site to view this file)

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American Heart Association Announces 2016 Get Healthy! Poster Contest Award Recipients

The American Heart Association and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island hosted the 2016 Get Healthy! Poster Contest Award Ceremony at the Rhode Island State House on May 25th in conjunction with our Youth Advocacy Day.  The award ceremony recognized six outstanding students in grades K-5.  Winning students demonstrated how physical activity and healthy eating helps build healthy hearts, healthy families and healthy communities. More than 700 posters from all over Rhode Island were submitted for consideration this year.

Congratulations to our award recipients!

Grades K-2:

1st place – Tatum Brennan – Hathaway School, Portsmouth

2nd place – Zoe Hall – Wawaloam School, Exeter

3rd place – Ryan Capraro – Winsor Hill School, Johnston

Grades 3-5:

1st place –Makayla Scuncio – Winsor Hill School, Johnston

2nd place – Aidan Chen – Melville Elementary, Portsmouth

3rd place – Trinity Young – Homeschooled, Newport

The American Heart Association is committed to helping kids and families live heart healthy lives!  As we educate and lobby lawmakers to support policies that promote access to healthy foods and safe places to play and be active in Rhode Island, we wanted to take the extra step to get students involved.

Many thanks to our generous sponsor Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island!

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Rhode Island Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed Honored by American Heart Association

The American Heart Association recognized Rhode Island Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (District 13 – Newport, Jamestown) for her commitment to fighting heart disease and stroke at an award ceremony at the State House on May 25th.

President Paiva Weed was presented with the 2016 Tracey A. Kennedy Leadership in Advocacy Award, a “lifetime achievement” award given in recognition of outstanding leadership and tireless efforts to advance the mission of the American Heart Association – building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

Paiva Weed, who has served as President of the Senate since 2009, was selected for her leadership and commitment to children’s health in Rhode Island.  President Paiva Weed has been a champion for RIte Care and a longtime proponent of quality healthcare for children and families in the Ocean State. She has helped pave the way for strong school nutrition standards and a healthy school environment for Rhode Island children.  Paiva Weed has protected kids from the dangers of tobacco and emerging products like electronic cigarettes. And, she supported efforts to ensure that all high school students will be trained in the lifesaving skill of CPR before they graduate.

 “The American Heart Association is very appreciative of Senate President Paiva Weed’s efforts and partnership.  The issues highlighted above are a mere snapshot of the work that has been accomplished under her leadership.  We are thrilled to recognize President Paiva Weed’s lifetime achievement as a champion for children’s health and we congratulate her on receiving this very well-deserved award,” noted Tracey Kennedy.

“We thank Senate President Paiva Weed for her incredible leadership and commitment to Rhode Island’s children.  We are very lucky to have her at the State House.  We look forward to continuing our work together as we strive to build a healthier generation and a healthier Rhode Island,” said Megan Tucker, Director of Government Relations at the American Heart Association.

The Tracey A. Kennedy Leadership in Advocacy Award was established in 2010 and is named for one of the American Heart Association’s most passionate advocates.  Tracey Kennedy of Wakefield is a stroke survivor and her commitment to advancing the American Heart Association’s mission through meaningful policy change at the state and federal levels is unparalleled.  She has displayed tremendous leadership over the years as past Chairwoman of the Rhode Island Board of Directors and as an Advocacy Ambassador.  Kennedy currently serves as Immediate Past Chairwoman of the Rhode Island Advocacy Committee.  She was also the recipient of the 2008 Volunteer Advocate of the Year Award, a prestigious national honor.

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Jennifer Quigley Harris, Rhode Island

GUEST BLOG: Active Kids Learn Better

By Jennifer Quigley Harris, Providence Public School District’s Wellness Coordinator

I was waiting at a traffic light when a group of middle school students stepped into the crosswalk in front of me. It was the end of the school day and the kids were a disheveled, loping pack, laughing loudly, nudging one another and shouting to friends as they made their way out of the school building.  Backpacks hung loosely off shoulders, jackets were unzipped, there were some untied shoelaces.

Jennifer Quigley Harris headshotAs the students reached the other side of the street, several of them broke into an ecstatic run, starting some kind of social tag and chase game with one another. There was an unmistakable jubilant energy surrounding these kids and I felt a strange sense of satisfaction as I watched them speed off down the sidewalk.  It’s as if I had been holding my breath while watching them cross the street and their mad dash caused me to relax.  As I drove away, I realized that just seeing them run and have fun soothed me.

I had spent most of that day inside those students’ school building, talking to administrators and staff about various ways to enhance, support and educate about health and wellness. As Wellness Coordinator in our state’s largest urban school district, I spend a great deal of my time thinking about how school food and school physical activity connects to and has an impact on academic performance, classroom behavior and concentration.  Every day in my professional capacity, I cite the latest research, share national best practices and try to provide the best resources I can for schools in their effort to promote overall good health as part of the school day.

Watching those students come out of school and run reminded me that perhaps what I should be talking about in schools every day is the simple idea that students often want to move more during their days. The traditional structure of our school day sometimes doesn’t take into account the growing body’s need to stretch, to walk, to breathe deeply, to take off in a run.  That learning to exercise and understand the way your body operates is as much a life skill as learning to read and learning to subtract.  In a world increasingly dominated by sedentary screen time, frequent rides in motor vehicles and cheap access to unhealthy foods, remembering how those middle schoolers had a natural instinct to run after a seven hour school day should really inform everything I do.

The Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and dozens of other national and local public health and organizations (including the American Heart Association) recommend that children and adolescents are physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. To help students meet and exceed those recommended minutes, the Providence Public School District (PPSD) partnered with the American Heart Association’s ANCHOR grant to train physical education teachers how to implement CSPAP – or a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program – in their schools.  Implementing a CSPAP is important because it not only looks at the amount of time students are physically active during the school day, but it also looks for opportunities to get students moving through staff involvement, before and after school programs and in family and community settings. So far, seventeen PPSD schools have been trained to implement CSPAP, and this number continues to grow.

In Providence, schools are encouraging additional physical activity minutes through a variety of CSPAP techniques including enhanced recess programming, improved recess spaces, incorporation of classroom activity breaks into K-12 class time, programs and competitions to track steps and calculate miles using pedometers, expanded participation in team sports at the intramural, community and interscholastic levels and broadened delivery of classes to students and staff across a wide variety of fitness and movement skills so that individuals learn to incorporate and embrace physical activity and movement into their schedules for life.

I am grateful for the opportunity I get every day to support the teachers and administrators in the Providence school district who are working to establish CSPAP in their buildings. Although more schools in the district need to join this effort, the programs, initiatives and assessments I have seen so far towards PPSD CSPAP give me hope that more students in Providence will be getting more of those recommended physical activity minutes added to their day. . Although more schools in the district need to join this effort, the programs, initiatives and assessments I have seen so far toward CSPAP give me hope that more students in Providence will be getting the recommended physical activity minutes added to their day. I am excited that schools are encouraging their staff to model and promote physical activity in front of students.  I am hopeful that outreach efforts towards families and community partners about increasing daily activity minutes will help to convey the importance of movement and exercise in daily American lives.

Increasing physical activity among youth is no longer just about battling the obesity epidemic in our country. It is also about developing lifelong heart health, strengthening growing bones, preventing costly and debilitating disease and empowering kids to gain control of their ever-changing bodies and use movement and activity to decrease stress, overcome fear, boost energy and have fun.  If any of those things also help them do well and enjoy time in school, that’s good news too.

For more information on efforts to build a healthier community in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls, contact

The American Heart Association’s ANCHOR Partnerships Program is funded under the CDC’s National Implementation and Dissemination for Chronic Disease Prevention initiative. The American Heart Association is working to increase access to physical activity opportunities in schools.

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Rhode Island Lobby Day a Success

You’re the Cure advocates from across the Ocean State descended on the RI State House on May 4th for the American Heart Association’s Lobby Day. Their message to lawmakers: cast a vote for children’s health!    

Advocates spoke with legislators about two important proposals:        

  • The first bill would update Rhode Island’s school nutrition standards to ensure that Rhode Island meets – and continues to exceed – new federal guidelines for snacks and beverages sold in schools. 
  • The second bill would ensure that only healthy foods and beverages are advertised and marketed to children on school property. 

Both bills have been approved by the Senate and await a vote in the House.  For more information click here: (Please visit the site to view this file)

Many thanks to our amazing Lobby Day Team: Dr. Steven Fera, John Potvin, Laurie Stephenson, Miriam Plitt, Nancy Blasdell, Lisa Deck, Kathy Harrington, Dina Mihos, Karin Wetherill, Kelly Swanson, Michelle Karn, Amanda Komorek, Christa Danilowicz, Andrea Larocque, Bill Thompsen and David Day.

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Rhode Island Legislative Session Heads into Home Stretch

We are heading into the final weeks of the 2016 RI Legislative Session. With several priority bills still in play, we need your continued support to keep the pressure on our legislators! 

  • Our bills related to school nutrition and healthy school marketing have both passed the Senate and await action in the House.  As a reminder, the first bill would update Rhode Island’s school nutrition standards to ensure that Rhode Island meets – and continues to exceed – new federal guidelines for snacks and beverages sold in schools.  The second bill would ensure that only healthy foods and beverages are advertised and marketed to children on school property.  Please help us get these bills through the House!  Click the following link to send a message to Speaker Mattiello today:
  • As lawmakers put their finishing touches on the budget, we are lobbying them to include Governor Raimondo’s proposed Green Economy Bond Referendum that would provide funding for bike paths and recreation in the Ocean State (increasing opportunities for physical activity).  Voters would have to approve the bond question on the November Ballot.
  • Lastly, we continue to urge state leaders to fund CPR training in high schools in an effort to fully implement our CPR in Schools Law that requires all high school students to be trained in this lifesaving skill prior to graduation. 

Please stay tuned over the coming weeks!  Questions? Please contact Megan Tucker, Director of Government Relations at (401) 228-2331 or  

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Danny Mackenzie, Rhode Island

I am a 40 year old, healthy active adult as well as a cardiac arrest and heart attack survivor.

It was a Saturday and I remember waking up in a hospital bed feeling tired and groggy.  My heart attack happened on a Saturday but I did not wake up until a week later.  My mind and body had been put through the ringer.   I looked up and saw my wife standing over me as I came to. I repeatedly asked her, “What happened?” She kept telling me what had happened. My brain wouldn’t absorb the words she was telling me. All I remember was I would start to cry and fall back into a deep dark slumber sleep. This went on for a couple of days. Finally, the words sank into my head. She was telling me I had a massive heart attack. Now the reason why it took me so long to register what she was telling me was because I couldn’t believe my own ears.  What she was repeatedly saying didn’t make any sense to me, this could not be true, this can't happen to me. My own mind was playing tricks on me. You have to understand that I considered myself to be an athlete and somewhat of a fit individual. I spent my entire life trying to take care of my body. My wife and I would go to the gym religiously throughout the week. We have been extremely active people for most of our lives. We take pride in taking care of our bodies. We rarely indulge in eating out at fast food places. We would only have an occasional drink here and there. Smoking was always out of the question.

So you have to understand when my wife is telling me that I had cardiac arrest and a massive heart attack, I just couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it. My brain was not going to except that fact. I was supposed to be a healthy forty year old man with so much to look forward to in life. Nothing like this was ever supposed to happen to me because as far as I knew I was taking good care of myself. I didn’t have a family history of heart disease or heart attacks.  There really is no other explanation of what had happened to me other than it was in my genes.

As you can imagine once I was mentally aware of what had happened and what was going on around me all I could do was ask questions.  God knows, I had tons of questions.  All I wanted from that point on was to hear from all those that were around me what in god’s name happened. I started with the one person that knows me better than anybody else, my wife, Angela. We try to recall that day the best we could.  So I tried my best to remember what had happened the Saturday of my event.

First thing was first, my wife and I always started our Saturdays by going to the gym. I recall having a great workout and feeling like a million bucks when we left the gym that morning. After the gym we went to pick up our son from his friend’s house. As we sat in the driveway waiting for my son to come out that’s when I went from feeling good to having an overwhelming nauseous feeling. I was highly disappointed because I had been fighting colds and the flu for nearly two months. I thought I had finally overcome all the illness of the past few months that morning.  All I could think was great now the flu was back. I couldn’t wait to get home..I just had to get some rest and sleep this feeling off. My wife suggested that I go to the doctor that morning.  Going to see a doctor that day was far from my mind. So after taking several naps and managing to get small amounts of food down me I thought I had kicked whatever was attacking me that morning. Our usual routine was to rent movies on Saturday nights. It was about seven thirty when we had sat down in our basement to watch a movie. All I remember after turning on the movie was I had reached over to grab some popcorn out of my wife’s bowl. That is it, lights out. Ange thought I was falling asleep on her as I slumped over.

As my wife recalls the event she shares with me that there was no warning.  I just simply collapsed onto her shoulder without a word, sigh or moan.  She immediately jumped up, called 911 and began doing CPR.  The first responders arrived at our home fairly quickly although at the time it seemed like it was taking forever.  They immediately started CPR and attempted to shock my heart back into a normal rhythm.  It was only when I arrived at the hospital in the ambulance that I began to respond to the EMT’s efforts and medicines.  They then quickly put me to sleep to asses my situation.  The cardiac doctor quickly decided that immediate emergency surgery was the only option.  After 4 hours of surgery I was lucky and blessed to have survived.  I had a 99% blockage in my artery that required a stent.  Unfortunately during the rescue attempt at my home, I aspirated and now had to fight pneumonia in addition to a severely damaged heart.  I was in a coma and on life support for 7 days.

The very next step was the road to recovery. You have to understand at this point I was battling depression on top of everything else.  I had every intention of getting back on my feet but knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  Just as there was part of me thinking positively, there where parts of me thinking the exact opposite.  Scared and frightened of what life had in store for me. Parts of me didn’t think it was possible. The entire thought of me even being in this predicament was dragging me down.  Needless to say without the overwhelming support from my amazing wife, family, friends and medical staff I wouldn’t have made it through my rehabilitation.  I managed to get through my rehabilitation one step at a time, one day at a time. 

It's been little over a year now since my event and I'm in a very content and happy place in my life. In large part thanks to my wonderfully supportive wife, Angela. Without her quick and courageous actions I would not have survived. Of course, there were many factors that played into whether my event could have ended differently. The one factor that sticks in my mind is how I chose to be stubborn and ignore my wife's suggestion to seek medical attention. At that point I just didn't feel right but I thought it was another bout with the flu I'd been fighting for a couple weeks before hand.  Besides, what active healthy 40 year old man has a heart attack?  Not me...

Every day that I get to wake up and participate in life is a triumphant day for me.  Once I got my mind set on getting back on my feet I never looked back.  I knew I had the best support system behind me to see me through the best and worst of times through recovery.  Every Family member, Fireman, Doctor, Nurse and Physical Therapist I encountered throughout the healing process enabled me to regain control of my life once again.  My heart goes out to each and every one of them!  I never could have done it without them.  I can once again live an active, healthy, and normal life.

I’m proud to say that I have survived my bout with sudden cardiac arrest.  I’m back to a reasonably normal life, I continue to push forward every day.  For all the things on that fateful day that went wrong I was so fortunate that so many things went right after the fact.

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RI Lobby Day is May 4th. Register Today!

Please join fellow You’re the Cure advocates at the State House on Wednesday, May 4th for the American Heart Association’s Rhode Island Lobby Day! 

Click the following link to register today:

Rhode Island Lobby Day
May 4, 2016
State House – Providence, RI
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Lobby Day presents an excellent opportunity to meet with your representative and senator to promote the American Heart Association’s lifesaving policy priorities.  This year we will focus on two important issues related to children’s health:

  1. Ensuring that Rhode Island’s school nutrition standards meet and exceed new USDA regulations; and,
  2. Making certain that only healthy foods and beverages are advertised and marketed to children on school property.

Please use your voice and help us make a difference in the lives of Rhode Island’s children! 

Register today at:

Registrations must be received by April 25th.  Training will be provided prior to the event via conference call.  If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact Megan Tucker at (401) 228-2331 or

We hope to see you at the State House on May 4th!

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