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What Motivates Me to Work at the AHA?

By: Kula Koenig, Government Relations Director, California 

Ivan is why. Simply put, stories like my friend Ivan’s motivates me to work at the AHA because I know that the work we do continues to save lives.

One of the most special people I know is my friend Ivan -- or Ivanator as I sometimes call him. Ivan and his girlfriend Gerri (my close friend and old college roommate) came to celebrate my 25th birthday.  We had a grand ole time, dancing, laughing and simply enjoying life.

They were planning to fly back the next day but as I was getting ready to take Ivan and Gerri to the airport, Ivan suffered a stroke. He was 25.

The stroke left him speechless and he could not move. I wondered how a healthy, 25 year old (he was vegetarian!) could suffer a stroke?

The doctors later found he had a previously undetected heart defect. After surgery, medication and lots of prayer, I am happy to share that Ivan recovered 100 percent!

The picture is 6 years later, of Ivan, Gerri (now his wife) and I (from right to left) at my cousin’s wedding. Thanks to breakthroughs in research and medicine and a strong will to recover, Ivan is back to enjoying life, riding his fancy scooter around Los Angeles, and quoting Carl Jung.

I am proud that the AHA has invested more than $57 million in research projects throughout the Western States Affiliate to fund life-saving research so our loved ones, like Ivan, can continue to be here with us. The AHA’s work touches all areas that contribute cardiovascular health ranging from improved systems of care with the Get With the Guidelines programs, advocating for heart healthy policies, to community based programs like Teaching Gardens and Simple Cooking with Heart.

Simply put, saving lives is what motivates me to work at the AHA. What motivates you?! Share your story with us here.

Outside of my Advocacy duties, I am excited to join more than 1 million walkers in over 290 Heart Walks across the nation to take a stand against heart disease and help save lives! All with the goal of raising funds for continued research and medication to benefit all those who have suffered from heart disease or stroke, the country's No. 1 and No. 5 killers! If you want to find your local Heart Walk, please visit heartwalk.org.

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Advocate Spotlight - Tim Gable

Meet Tim Gable, a young survivor who had a stroke at age 25 and spent his 26th birthday in the hospital.  Tim’s a new AHA/ASA volunteer who has become a key advocate for our upcoming Saving Strokes Event in Provo. Here’s Tim’s story…

My friends and I had decided to go on a short vacation for Easter weekend. On March 31, 2013 during breakfast I began feeling very dizzy and nauseous.  I informed my friends I was going to go lay down until I felt better. I was walking back to my room when suddenly my left leg would not hold my weight and I fell in the lobby.  I managed to pick myself up thinking what did I trip on? But I saw nothing. I made it to my hotel room door where I once again fell to the floor.  This time however I was unable to get back up and this was the first time I started to feel scared about what was wrong with me.  I lay on the floor just out of reach of the door.  I was there for 20-30 minutes before one of my friends came looking for me. 

He found me on the floor unable to get up.  He dragged me into my room and tried sitting me up but my body wouldn’t hold.  I kept falling over so my friend ran for help realizing something was wrong. He had another friend come and help him pick me up they then ran me out the back door into another friend’s waiting car.  They drove as quickly as possible to the nearest hospital emergency room.  When we arrived the hospital quickly took me in and diagnosed me with having a stroke. I was given TPA then put on an ambulance and rushed to another hospital that was better equipped to handle stroke. 

As soon as I arrived at the other hospital I was taken into surgery where they located the blood clot in my carotid artery in the right frontal lobe of my brain.  There were multiple attempts to remove the clot but every time it was removed it reformed and re blocked the blood flow. The surgeon tried everything he knew but he could not stop the clot from reforming, eventually it had to be left or the surgery was going to kill me.  The clot is still lodged in my head but I’m told there is no risk of it moving. 

The next day I awoke in the neural critical care unit with the worst headache.  Nurses were called in to check on me.  I was rushed to an MRI and it was determined that my brain was now swelling due to the damage done from the stroke and was pressing on the inside of my skull threatening more damage.  The surgeon gave my parents two choices they could remove a portion of my skull in an attempt to relieve the pressure or allow nature to take its course and allow me to pass away. The decision was made to have the bone flap removal surgery.  Which luckily worked and ended up saving my life. 

I spent two weeks in the neural critical care unit and was then transferred to another hospital where I immediately began occupational, physical and speech therapy each day for the next month and a half. My doctors pushed me to do as much therapy as possible due to my young age the more I did early on the more I had the chance of getting back. By the time I was released to go home I was able to walk on my own with little to no assistance.  I immediately started outpatient occupational, physical and speech therapy each day. I continued this for the next year continually improving until I was finally able to pass the driving tests and get my license back!

I returned to school and finished my degree in business management. During this time I felt the need to do more for people like myself who have suffered a stroke and recently participated in an event called Saving Strokes.  As a result I have become a volunteer for American Stroke Association and hope to build a career where I might be able to use my experience and story to help others.

For more information about the Saving Strokes program click here.

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Dr. Mitchell S. Elkind, New York

Dr. Mitchell S. V. Elkind, a member of the American Heart Association’s Board of Directors, is gravely concerned about the high rates of hypertension in New York City.  And he’s pushing the city to do something about it. 

Dr. Elkind recently submitted testimony to the New York City Board of Public Health, supporting the proposal to place a warning icon next to restaurant menu items when food possesses a dangerous level of sodium.

In a recent interview, Dr. Elkind, a neurology and epidemiology professor at Columbia University in New York, stated that “people really have no idea how much salt they’re eating, and many would be shocked to discover they can get their full recommended daily salt intake at a single meal, or even a single dish. We have to educate them every step of the way, instead of just putting out a pamphlet that nobody reads. Educating people at the place where they’re actually eating could make a big difference.”

In his comments to the Board of Health, Dr. Elkind emphasized that dietary salt consumption is one of the most important, modifiable factors that can impact one’s blood pressure. If we reduced our individual salt intake, even slightly, we could prevent as many as 32,000 deaths per year.

In research published in 2012, Dr. Elkind worked with a team of clinicians and epidemiologists to analyze data from a cohort study designed to determine stroke incidence, risk factors, and prognosis in a multiethnic urban population from northern Manhattan.  Their findings underscore the need for public health initiatives, like the proposal in NYC, to reduce the sodium level in our food supply.

Dr. Elkind, as an advocate for the American Heart Association, looks forward to the NYC Board of Health’s vote on the Sodium Warning Icon proposal and its swift implementation this winter.

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Stroke Task Force Moves Quickly and Gov. Malloy Holds Formal Signing For CPR Bill

Summer may be seen a slower time in in the legislature, but that’s not the case with the Department of Health Task Force to Study Stroke. The group has begun meeting regularly and it’s clear that everyone in the group is dedicated to improving stroke systems of care in Connecticut. The group recently met this past Tuesday and began fleshing out the beginning pieces of the recommendations they will make to the Connecticut General Assembly in the 2016 legislative session.

It’s exciting to watch the legislative process right from the start and see how the different groups work together to craft a final product. It will be interesting to see what the recommendations look like, but there appears to be consensus in the group that whatever the final product is, it should include the implementation of a tiered system of stroke facility designation and the establishment of a statewide stroke registry. These two provisions would ensure that if a person suffers a stroke they can be transported the nearest stroke center in the shortest amount of time and the registry will collect data that will help inform decisions and best practices when treating stroke.

The Task Force will be meeting the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month, this is an aggressive meeting schedule and they are even looking to expand the end date of the Task Force past the July 16, 2016 deadline to ensure systems of care in Connecticut are able to adapt to the ever changing field of medicine. So stay tuned.

In other news, Governor Malloy held a ceremonial bill signing on Wednesday, August 5th for Senate Bill 962, which will require all students to receive CPR training prior to graduation. AHA volunteer Mahika Jhangiani is pictured with Governor Malloy in the photo above. Mahika, a certified Emergency Medical Responder since she was a sophomore in high school, testified in support of SB 962 and teaches hands-only CPR to students in Norwalk.

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Amre Nouh, Connecticut

Dr. Amre Nouh is a stroke specialist at Hartford Hospital and he has been appointed as the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association representative to the Department of Public Health Task Force to Study Stroke.

Dr. Nouh brings a wealth of experience to the table and has held a variety of positions in the hospital and academic setting. His experience includes working as the Director of the Outpatient Stroke Center at Hartford Hospital, where he is also the acting Neurology Residency Site director and Stroke Inpatient Team Council. Dr. Nouh also is also the co-chair of the Stroke Research Council at Hartford Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Neurology at UCONN.

As the task force continues to work throughout the summer we look forward to supporting Dr. Nouh and the rest of the task force members to ensure we are able to treat someone who has suffered stroke with the highest quality of care.

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Bill Forester

Bill Forester Ohio

Bill Forester recalls the moment he heard the doctors tell his family that he was gone. At 51-years-old, he was a college professor, realtor, director of labor and public speaker who led a healthy lifestyle. "I was a vegetarian, I ran and I never smoked," said Bill, which is why it was such a shock when he had a stroke that left him in a coma for three days.

Thankfully, Bill awoke, but was paralyzed and unable to speak. When he first regained some ability to speak, his vocabulary was limited to just four word, but he was determined to get his life back. At times, he would study a single sentence for hours just to learn it. "I wanted to fully recover, and I didn’t care what it took." After lengthy physical, occupational and speech therapy, Bill regained his speech and has even been able to run a half marathon. He has since found a new talent and passion--painting.

Bill also turned his passion to helping others and recently joined hundreds of other AHA volunteers and survivors on Capitol Hill to share his story with lawmakers and advocate for increased heart and stroke research funding. He offers some advice to anyone going through a similar situation. "Never, never give up!"

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Critical Stroke Funding Saved!

We were able to secure $500,000 in critical funding for stroke data collection, prevention, and awareness. This is a great first step in ensuring that we are providing access to high quality of care for all stroke patients in the Commonwealth. This has not been an easy budget process and we know that if it wasn't for our dedicated advocates we would not have seen this funding included. We can't thank you all enough and look forward to continuing to work together on improving the stroke system of care in Massachusetts.

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New York City and the Battle Against #SneakySalt

The New York City Health Department hopes to shed some light on the sneaky sources of salt in our diets.  Several weeks ago, they proposed a rule that would require chain restaurants to post a warning to patrons when menu items exceed the daily recommended limit of sodium.  And we agree...we should be warned when a single meal could give us more salt than any scientific health expert would recommend. Dangerously high levels of sodium have an impact on our brain and heart-health as it's a leading cause of high blood pressure.  Often called the silent killer, high blood pressure does not have any outward symptoms but can result in stroke and cardiovascular diseases.

The Board of Health hearing on July 29th discussed the merits of the proposal, countered by the restaurant and hospitality industry's concerns that the proposal would be onerous and burdensome.  However, just as the city led the nation almost 9 years ago in the effort to educate consumers about high-caloric foods hidden on our menus, New York once again has the opportunity to shine the spotlight on high-sodium foods.  With close to 80% of Americans' sodium intake coming from packaged or restaurant foods, this measure could go a long way toward empowering all of us to make healthier choices when we're dining out.

Thanks to the many supporters of the city proposal for sharing their enthusiastic endorsement of the policy - including many from the You're the Cure network!  Your voices were heard loud and clear at the hearing.

The Board of Health is now considering all of the comments shared by the public and will make a final determination on the rule at their next meeting in September.  If all goes well, we could see the warning icons being placed on city menus as early as this December!

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Virtual stroke care from miles away

It might seem like something out of the future, but a neurologist miles away can now virtually diagnose and prescribe care for stroke patients via stroke telemedicine or telestroke. Telestroke can help ensure that more stroke patients receive clot-busting therapy and that they receive it more quickly, greatly improving the chances of a full recovery.

But this vital technology is not available to everyone.

Medicare only pays for the telestroke evaluation if the stroke patient is located in a rural area. With over 90% of strokes happening in urban or suburban areas, current law can restrict patient access to telestroke care.

However, there is a bill in Congress called the FAST (Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine) Act. This bill would expand Medicare’s coverage of telestroke services by reimbursing for a telestroke consultation, regardless of where the patient lives.

Please ask your members of Congress to co-sponsor the FAST Act today!

As the bill moves through Congress, we need to show as much support as possible for increasing access to telestroke. Please take a moment and urge your legislators to co-sponsor this important legislation today.

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Looking Back at Our Year Together!

The 2015 Legislative session in South Carolina was a lively one, allowing us to advance some vital pieces of legislation into 2016. Thank you for your advocacy efforts this session!

Senate Bill 320 & House Bill 3265: CPR in Schools
This requires all high school students to be proficient in hands-only CPR and AED as part of the already required high school health education class. The bills received favorable reports with amendments from both the House and Senate Education Committees, and each bill passed its respective body with unanimous support. However, no further action was taken once each bill passed into the opposite body.

Senate Bill 484: School Nutrition Guidelines
This ensures schools are meeting nutritional standards set by the USDA and that standards are regularly updated with USDA guidelines. It also helps parents understand how schools are meeting nutrition standards by reporting compliance in existing school health improvement plans. S 484 passed the Senate during the last week of May and will be ready for consideration by the House next year.

Send a letter to your Representative to urge them to support Senate Bill 484

Tobacco Control Funding:
We advocated during the appropriations process for an additional $6 million in tobacco control funding from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. We were able to protect the $5 million in funding for tobacco control received yearly from cigarette tax revenue.

Smoke-Free Victories:
Two more communities across the state adopted smoke-free ordinances, bringing us to 60 South Carolina municipalities enjoying- smoke-free air!

As part of the You’re the Cure team, we made GREAT strides this year toward improving the lives of South Carolina citizens. We will be revisiting each of these issues in 2016 and have no doubt we will see major victories in the Palmetto State!

Thank you, sincerely, for all you do. You are our hero.

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