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Meet our Stroke Heroes!

Superheroes fly. Stroke Heroes prevent stroke.

May is American Stroke Month. While stroke threatens millions of lives, it is largely preventable, treatable, and beatable. We are honored to recognize these stroke survivors who have joined us on our mission to end stroke. They are working hard across our lone star state to raise awareness of risk factors associated with stroke, and they are fiercely advocating for healthier lives. 

Meet our Stroke Heroes! 

Michelle Kryzwonski, Georgetown, TX

After waking up one morning with a headache and unable to easily walk across her bedroom, Michelle knew something was horribly wrong. She had her daughter call 911, and struggled to even sit up by herself while waiting for EMS to arrive. Because Michelle knew the signs and symptoms of stroke, she insisted they take her to the hospital. Doctors were surprised to learn that she had suffered a stroke, even though she had none of the risk factors and appeared healthy. In fact, Michelle was able to recover quickly and continues to lead a full life because of her healthy lifestyle and knowledge of the signs and symptoms of stroke.

Kelly Fucheck, The Woodlands, TX

Growing up as a firefighters daughter, Kelly Fucheck thought she knew the signs and symptoms of a stroke, until the day she had one. One Sunday morning, Kelly woke up to a strange sense of vertigo. Thinking she was getting sick, Kelly decided to not go to the doctor until two days later. Once she arrived at the doctor, she was rushed to the Emergency Room where she was told she had suffered a stroke. "I remember thinking 'Oh my God, I'm 32 years old, and I had a stroke.'" Now, Kelly is a mom of two and is using her story to help others understand the importance of stroke education. "It's not always the face drooping, or the slurred speech, sometimes there's other symptoms like vertigo or dizziness."

Toni Alika Hickman Houston, TX

At the age of 32, Toni Hickman, a budding musician and rapper, suffered two brain aneurysms and a stroke derailing her dreams of achieving stardom as a hip hop artist. She became paralyzed and lost her ability to speak. Her family surrounded her with support as she struggled to learn to speak, walk and regain mobility and some physical control of her body. After months in a wheelchair and rehabilitation, she walked out of the hospital on her own with a new accessory, her cane, and strong will to get her life back, and to live independently while knowing the road she would have to travel would be long and difficult. “Every time someone sees me walk with my limp and is bold enough to ask what happened, it is my gateway to share and inspire better health,” Hickman said. “No matter your age, you can be at risk for heart disease or stroke, now is the time to take action to reduce your risk.”

Nicki Petrelli, Houston, TX

At age 28, Nicki Petrelli was in the best shape of her life. She lived a healthy lifestyle and didn't have any health problems. One day at church, Nicki's leg began to feel numb. As she tried to lift herself up on the pew, her entire left side went numb. Her husband called 911 and let them know that he believed his wife was having a stroke. With no history of stroke in her family, the diagnosis was unbelievable. But Nicki was having a stroke. The doctors discovered her stroke was caused by a congenital heart defect that had not been treated. Today, Nicki is a busy lawyer and active mom of two. Despite her stroke, Nicki encourages others to understand that a stroke can happen to anyone, no matter how healthy.


Charnette Taylor, M.D., Spring, TX

As a pediatrician, Dr. Charnette Taylor was well aware of the signs and symptoms of a stroke. While observing a patient, Dr. Taylor begin to feel dizzy and had to sit down. When her patient and nurses asked her if she was ok, Dr. Taylor said she found it difficult to respond with words she uses daily. "I remember being overwhelmed with the peace that - something told me that this would not kill me." Dr. Taylor received tPA, a clot-busting drug, quickly and was in an MRI an hour and a half later. Tests revealed Dr. Taylor was born with a congenital heart defect, which ultimately attributed to her stroke. Dr. Taylor now spends her time advocating for the American Heart Association and spreading awareness about congenital heart defects and stroke prevention.

Shondra Rogers McGray, Houston, TX

At 38 years old, Shondra Rogers McGray was months away from the birth of her child. During pregnancy, she developed preeclampsia (toxemia) hypertension. A few months after the birth of her son, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. The stroke had a significant impact on her family. She was unable to work for 3 months and was restricted from doing a number of things, which included driving, participating in strenuous activity, or lifting heavy objects. "As a result of my stroke, my son had to be cared for by my mother and siblings, as I was unable to prepare and take him to school. It was hard. However, these restrictions allowed me ample time to regain my strength and have regular check-ups with my doctor and my neurologist." Shondra recognizes that she is fortunate to be a stroke survivor and takes every opportunity possible to share her story with others.

Jennifer Caribardi, RN, Kingwood, TX

As a registered nurse and Director of Critical Care Services at Kingwood Medical Center, Jennifer Caribardi was highly skilled in treating stroke patients.Yet, when she herself showed clear signs of a stroke, she didn't believe it. "I am too busy for this to happen," she said. Her first symptom was blurred vision, followed by the loss of feeling on her left side. She felt her face began to droop and realized she was having difficulty with speech. But she was in the right place at the right time. Kingwood Medical Center is a designated Primary Stroke Center, meaning they have taken the necessary steps to ensure that they can provide quality care to stroke patients. Since then, Jennifer has dedicated her time to help the organization advocate on the local and national levels for Stroke education, prevention and treatment.

John Murphy, Austin, Texas

In 2005, John traveled to Chicago to run the Chicago Marathon for the fifth time. During the 23rd mile, he began to feel dizzy and lost part of his vision. As a seasoned runner, he passed it off as dehydration and continued to finish the race. Later that evening, while stretching, John experienced numbness in one of his arms and was unable to get up. A bystander noticed and called 911. John, at the age of 45, had suffered a stroke. After four days in the ICU, he spent another 6 weeks in intensive in-patient therapy and 18 weeks in outpatient therapy. Years later, John is living a healthy, vibrant life despite his permanent physical and cognitive disabilities.

John Murphy has lent his voice and passion to stroke awareness and prevention for over 8 years in Austin. John has increasingly become a stellar grassroots advocate lending his support to AHA’s legislative priorities including: Quality Systems of Care, smoke-free workplaces, CPR in School, and newborn heart defect screenings. By attending Advocating for Heart events at the Capitol and meeting elected officials, John is able to add a face and a personal story to many of our issues.

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#ProtectPE for our kids' hearts... and brains!

Kickball, crab soccer, dodgeball, jump rope – for most adults, all these activities bring back memories of fun times spent in PE. It was a great way to burn off steam and learn something about a new sport, all while absorbing the importance of staying physically fit. PE definitely contributes to teachers actually being able to do their job (and preserving their sanity in the process!) by giving kids a place to release all of their pent up energy, so that they can then buckle down and focus on their school work. Unfortunately, the next generation may grow up without those same memories and all the benefits that come with them.

Due to how common it has become for PE to be removed from our nation’s schools, Voices for Healthy Kids and SHAPE America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, just released an update to the Shape of the Nation report on the state of physical education and physical activity in the American education system. The report, which is designed to help advise physical education policies and practices, shows significant and sometimes striking differences in statewide policies regarding physical education programs in the schools.

For example, only Oregon and the District of Columbia meet the national recommendations for weekly time in physical education at both elementary and middle school levels, which is currently set at 150 minutes for elementary students and 225 minutes for secondary students. On the other hand, few states set any minimum amount of time that elementary, middle school/junior high and high school students must participate in physical education. Texas is among those states, requiring students to take physical education in grades K-8, but does not have a requirement for the number of minutes. For high school students the findings are particularly troubling, with only six states establishing minimum times that students must participate in physical education, even though the positive impact on their physical, mental, and emotional health is well-documented. Studies show that active children consistently outperform less active students academically in both the short and the long term. They also demonstrate better classroom behavior, greater ability to focus, and lower rates of absenteeism.

When you consider that 32% of the nation’s children and adolescents are at an unhealthy weight, and the majority are living sedentary lifestyles, you quickly realize that this issue should be a top priority for lawmakers. Creating and nurturing opportunities in schools for students to get the recommended amount of time in PE, while addressing the quality of instruction as well, is one of the most cost-effective approaches to combating this growing health crisis. That’s why Voices for Healthy Kids created the #ProtectPE campaign designed to unite parents, community leaders, and public health advocates around local and state-based efforts to strengthen physical education in the schools; advocates like LaShonda Cameron of Houston, TX, a Physical Education teacher who knows first-hand how important PE is to the health and future of Texas’s children.

For National Physical Education and Sports Week, LaShonda shares her perspective:

"Physical education is very important to the well-being of growing youth.  Inactive and unhealthy youth turn into inactive unhealthy adults, so this is not a generational issue.  Students need to be taught the benefits of having an active lifestyle versus a sedentary one if we hope to improve the chances of a healthy adult lifestyle. 

In my experience, students are very receptive to knowledge about their bodies, fun ways to stay active, and the benefits of a life with movement incorporated.  For this reason, I am puzzled as to why the thought of removing physical education from school is even a discussion when there are an abundance of studies that find significant benefits, both educationally and physically, for students.  I see this proven every day for myself. It brings me joy as I see the students in my classes realize that being physically active is not complicated, fun with innovation, beneficial educationally, and most importantly, rewarding.  Even better, with this insight, I have seen students positively influence their friends and families with the knowledge they have obtained. In this way, PE in schools has the potential to influence not just the students, but the community as a whole.

My students are making informed decisions about diet and exercise because of what physical education provides, something that no other subject does. The simple fact that it betters the chances of an active adult lifestyle should be reason enough to #ProtectPE because the next generation will be tomorrow's leaders.

Join me to #ProtectPE by informing your elected officials how important PE is for both our kids and our communities. Use this easy action alert to send your emails now. #Protect PE, it's a no-brainer!"

~LaShonda Cameron
Physical Education Teacher
Elsik 9th Grade Center
Alief Independent School District

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Clear Lungs, Full Hearts, Can't Lose - 50 Texas Cities Go Smoke-Free

On April 19th, the City of Universal City voted unanimously to pass a smoke-free ordinance that protects all workers and residents from the deadly effects of second-hand smoke!

In doing so, they not only became another Texas city choosing to prioritize the health of their residents, but they became the 50th city in Texas to do so! While we still have a long way to go, this is truly a cause for celebration! We are endlessly thankful for the continued passion, tireless help, and strong voices of our citizen volunteers and advocates who were critical in passing each and every one of these 50 ordinances.

Because of all of you, 50 cities in Texas can now breathe easier, and together we will continue to work to ensure that ALL Texans have that same right.

Onward and upward, y'all!

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You're Invited: Advocate for Heart at the Texas Capitol!

We’re recognizing American Stroke Month with a gathering of advocates and survivors at the Texas State Capitol. Please join us on Tuesday, May 17 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for a dynamic event featuring advocates that have come together to share their stories of survival.  

We invite you to join us to hear about the policy efforts of the American Heart Association and how YOU are the key to advancing those campaigns!  We look forward to seeing you at the Capitol, and would love to save a place for you!  Please click here to RSVP.

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Port Arthur Goes Smoke-Free!

Last Tuesday, April 5th, the Port Arthur City Council voted unanimously (9-0) in favor of a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance! Port Arthur is now the 48th city in Texas to go smoke-free!

We are incredibly thankful for all our smoke-free supporters who sent emails, made calls, and testified before City Council. Your actions made this happen!

Once this ordinance goes into effect, Port Arthur residents and visitors will be able to enjoy their favorite places without the harmful effects of exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke. Restaurant and bar workers will be able to breathe easier and live healthier lives.

We would not be here without the support and dedication of our You're the Cure advocates to making Port Arthur a healthier place to live.

Thank you!

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Meet Mary Mandel, Our You're the Cure Hero
Every day we take thousands of steps to get where we need to go. You're the Cure advocate Mary Mandel knows this and is advocating for everyone to take the step toward a healthier lifestyle!
Meet Mary: 
As a heart attack survivor, I know the importance of taking time to take care of yourself. Many Americans aren’t dedicating enough time for physical activity. And it means we’re at greater risk for heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases. But we’re not going to take it sitting down! 
Join me and millions of Americans this month, as we pledge to live a healthier lifestyle and get physically active. Visit Heart.org/Walking and use the American Heart Association’s free tips and tools to stay motivated on your walking program. 
  • Name:  Mary Mandel
  • Occupation:  Cardiac Medical Yoga Instructor
  • How long have you been volunteering with the American Heart Association and what is your volunteer role:  I have been volunteering since 2011.  I volunteer for Go Red for Women, and I am also on the Passion Committee.  This year, I am starting to volunteer for the Advocacy team and I have joined the Austin Grassroots Action Team.
  • Why do you advocate for Heart:  To build awareness and to saves lives!  I never thought I would be affected by heart disease, and it ended up nearly taking my life...twice!  Perhaps if I had seen another young, healthy woman speak about heart disease, I would have recognized the symptoms and I would have gone to the emergency room sooner, which would have prevented many of the heart issues I now live with and manage on a daily basis.
  • What is something in your life that you love:  I absolutely love seeing my little 5-year old boy grow into the smart, compassionate, sweetheart that he is.
  • What is your all-time favorite thing to do on your time off:  yoga, meditation, and drumming!
  • Fun Fact about yourself:  I have lived in nearly every corner of the world...Europe, Asia, South America and India.



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Lace Up & Go for National Walking Day!

Nowadays, we’re spending more time at work and sitting in front of a screen than ever before. We're becoming less active, which can increase our risk of heart disease, stroke and other diseases.

You’re invited to join us as we lace up for a healthier life by taking part in the American Heart Association's National Walking Day. And no matter where you are in Texas, we have three ways you can get involved!

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Join our Austin office's #WalkATX Instagram Challenge by following @ahaaustin on Instagram and participating in a full-day of photo challenges! Beginning at 8am, and every hour through 5pm, we'll be posting a different challenge, and every hour we'll be giving away a different prize!

Anyone can participate - just follow @ahaaustin on Instagram and stay tuned for hints until April 6!

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Our Advocacy Team will host a special event with a walk around the Capitol grounds to promote active living on National Walking Day! We hope you can join us as we Step Up for Texas Health and kick off a month-long celebration designed to help us all become more active.

Event Details: What: Get moving for National Walking Day with a walk around the Capitol grounds. Immediately following, enjoy a heart healthy lunch sponsored by the AHA When: Wednesday, April 6th from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. Where: Meet at the South Steps of the Capitol at 11:30 am.

For additional details and to register, please visit: http://p2a.co/HPYNead

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You're invited to join us on Twitter for the American Heart Association’s Lace Up For Heart Health CEO Challenge! 10 local CEO's are lacing up and showing off their steps in this 24-hour challenge.

The challenge is meant to provide a fun way to promote walking, the simplest form of exercise. We encourage you to join @ahaaustin on Twitter in tracking your steps on National Walking Day using #WalkATX, and follow along for this fun, competitive event!

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Meet Mylan Shaunfield, Advocate for Health

We are thrilled to highlight one of our newest You're the Cure advocates, Mylan Shaunfield. He's been advocating for heart health in record speed. Mylan has shown his passion through participating in Advocating for Heart events at the Capitol, and has even been known to drop by legislative offices for a quick visit in support of our heart healthy priorities. 

While Mylan is one of our newest advocates, he represents the growing trend of young professionals who want to get involved in the fight against heart disease and stroke. 
Name: Mylan W. Shaunfield
Occupation: Attorney & Counselor at Law
How long have you been volunteering with the American Heart Association and what is your volunteer Role: Grassroots Action Team Member. Since October 2015 
Why do you Advocate for Heart:  A number of reasons but the three biggest is the passing of my father at the young age of 60 due to heart failure, and the environment we live in facilitates an unhealthy lifestyle and sets us up for failure from a health perspective.  The fact that healthcare is our nation's largest expenditure, and It's an unrealistic expectation for people to live a healthy lifestyle when it's cheaper and easier to be unhealthy. 
What is something in your life that you love: My job allows me to help people nearly every day
What is your all-time favorite thing to do on your time off: Traveling to places I've never been, experiencing different cultures, and meeting new people
Fun Fact about yourself: In 2013 I ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and an action shot of me next to the bulls made it on Yahoo news' and CNN's top stories.

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Meet Kari & TK

In our Volunteer Spotlight this month we would love for you to meet TWO of our Oklahoma Grassroots Action Team members:

Name: Kari Stender, M.P.H. (pictured on right)

Hometown: Sioux City, IA-but I've lived in Oklahoma for 9 years

Favorite activity when you’re not at work: Exercising-especially running. Oh! Camping too!

Favorite Concert: Backstreet Boys...hands down

If you could be an expert in anything what would it be and why? Languages. I speak Spanish and English fluently but I'd love to add more languages. I love travelling so knowing many languages would make that a lot easier!

Why are you involved with/care about the AHA?: I love the many initiatives AHA is working on to make our communities healthier. I believe that everyone has the right to good health and AHA is working towards eliminating barriers that might stand in the way.

Name: TaKisha "TK" L. Lovelace (pictured on left)

Hometown: Oklahoma City, OK

Favorite activity when you’re not at work: Hanging out with my family

Favorite Concert: The Hopeville Tour featuring Yolonda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, and Kirk Frankiln

If you could be an expert in anything what would it be and why? Relationships. Because we all need a great support group to help us function to the best of our ability!

Why are you involved with/care about the AHA?: I got involved with AHA because of the commitment it has to building communities and spreading awareness to help us all become better people.

Thank you so much to both of these ladies for being rock star advocates for heart health in Oklahoma! 

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Join Advocates at the State Capitol!
What happens in the Capitol, definitely doesn't stay in the Capitol!
In fact, stories shared by You're the Cure advocates with their elected officials make their way out of the Capitol in the form of heart healthy and stroke smart policies, changing our communities for the better! Your story can make a difference. It's time to be heard.
If you're wondering how your voice can really be heard, or want to take your advocacy to the next level, join us on March 16 to see the Texas Legislature up close. 
Our Advocating for Heart event will feature a panel of legislative staff who'll share strategies on how to be effective with your time with your legislator. Then, you'll put your skills into practice by visiting legislative offices to chat about increasing healthy options for Texas kids and families. You won’t want to miss this special opportunity!
Advocating for Heart Event Details: 
When: Wednesday, March 16, 10:30 am - 2:00 pm 
Where: State Capitol, Austin, Texas
Who: Advocates of all ages – youth and adults 
Contact Victoria.Nelson@heart.org for more information. 
Since this will be during spring break for many students, youth advocates are encouraged to attend with their parents! 

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