American Heart Association

The WSA Exchange

For healthy hearts and minds

Welcome to the The WSA Exchange, for healthy hearts and minds. Kathy Rogers, American Heart Association Western States Affiliate Executive Vice President will share stories from across the affiliate.

Parade magazine features Len Gutman

Parade Magazine feature AHA staff member and heart attack survivor Len GutmanFor so many of us, the AHA mission is our own personal journey. That’s certainly the case for Len Gutman, the Director of Philanthropy for our Phoenix division. Len’s journey is chronicled in last Sunday’s Parade magazine. His family history of heart disease caught up with him at age 45. In spite of his healthy lifestyle choices, Len had a heart attack four years ago after going off of preventative aspirin and cholesterol-lowering drugs in preparation for sinus surgery.

His journey back to health included a career change – from 25 years in corporate public relations to philanthropy for the AHA. His keen p.r. sense was obvious when he pitched the Parade writer to include mention of our Patient Support Network in the article. The Phoenix division is one of the national pilot sites for this online tool designed for heart and stroke patients and their caregivers to meet others, share their stories and to find and give support.

We expect to see a big spike on the Support Network after that mention since Parade is the most widely read magazine in the U.S. — with circulation of 32 million and a readership of 54.1 million.

Thank you, Len for including us in your journey in so many ways!

Len Gutman, recently feature in Parade Magazine, with his family

By |November 23rd, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

Ryan Thurston’s Heart of Gold

I love it when I get guest blog submissions! Thank you, Wendy and Ryan, for your submission and story.

Ryan ThurstonToday, Ryan Thurston is a healthy, twelve year old enjoying his childhood in beautiful Ojai, California. In school, he is excited about his life science class which has given him more insight into the amazing human heart, outside of his own challenging experience with congenital heart defects. Now nearing his teenage years, Ryan is thrilled to share his own “heart story” with his classmates and others.

However, the journey to health has taken Ryan and his family through many ups and downs. At the tender age of two-weeks old, the family physician heard a murmur in Ryan’s heart at his well check. He was referred to a pediatric cardiologist for further evaluation. At one month of age, Ryan was diagnosed with the following congenital heart defects:  Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD – a hole in the septum, or wall, between the two bottom chambers of his heart); Atrial Septal Defect (ASD – same as VSD but affecting the upper chambers); and Right Ventricular Outflow Tract Obstruction (RVOT).

For the next few months, with monthly and sometimes weekly doctor’s appointments Ryan seemed to be developing and growing as babies should. According to his mother, unless you knew his story, you certainly couldn’t tell he was an infant living with CHD.

However, at his six-month well check, the family physician noticed a significant change in the sound of Ryan’s heart murmur from his previous visit. Unfortunately, his parents were informed that surgery would be necessary. At 8-months old, the world-renowned Dr. Laks at UCLA performed open-heart surgery on Ryan. His VSD and ASD holes were successfully repaired, and his ventricular obstruction was resected. Ryan was released from the hospital on December 23, just in time for his first Christmas at home with his family.

For nearly six years, Ryan was monitored regularly by his cardiologist and all progressed well. However, a small percentage of children who have the RVOT resection within the first year of life, regrow the resected tissue. Ryan was in this rare group and at age seven he required a second open-heart surgery to repair his heart. And, because he was in such a risky cardiac situation, all physical activity had to stop – immediately! Dr. Laks explained the stress on his heart due to activity could literally cause him to drop to his death. In June 2010, Ryan underwent his second open-heart surgery with Dr. Laks. In addition to resecting the RVOT tissue, they also repaired one of the leaflets of his pulmonary valve. 

This journey has taken Ryan and our family through many ups and downs, day in and day out, but in the end this is his story and it is one he continues to learn how to embrace.

In addition, to thriving in school, Ryan is a First Class Scout in Troop 504, on his quest to become an Eagle Scout. He loves to kayak, swim, and hike and is an outstanding artist. He aspires to be an aeronautical engineer. Basically, he is just like everyone’s typical 12 year old boy. But, one with a heart of gold.

Thanks, Kathy! Sincerely,

Wendy (and Ryan) Thurston

By |November 20th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

Rome Betts winners

The Rome Betts Award of Excellence is among the most prestigious of AHA/ASA national staff awards.

We are so excited to announce that three of our Health Strategies colleagues and the Greater Bay Area Heart Walk team are among the winners.

Award for Revenue Generation – Heart Walk
The Greater Bay Area Heart Walk team, led by Jill DiGiacomo and Renée Croteau

Health Strategies awards
Julie Kaufmann, Community Health
Malka Sierra, Multicultural Initiatives
Eric Batch, Advocacy

Rome Betts Awards recognize individuals who demonstrate outstanding leadership, professionalism and dedication in advancing our mission. The recognition reflects accomplishments achieved in fiscal year 2014-2015 but reflect long track records of sustained effort, strong relationships and consistent leadership.

Rome Betts Award Winners - Greater Bay Area Heart Walk TeamThe Greater Bay Area Heart Walk team, led by Jill DiGiacomo and Renée Croteau, embraced strategies that focused on the Heart Walk fundamentals of circle of excellence teams, vendor campaigns, team recruitment and personal giving. They not only grew the Heart Walk to exceed the $3 million milestone, they also established a foundation for continued success. Behind every relationship, they inspired personal connections by speaking directly to participants’ “Why”. That passion cascaded through company leaders, team captains and walkers fueling the momentum and resulting in new levels of enthusiasm and engagement for our mission.

Rome Betts Award winner - Julie KaufmannJulie Kaufmann is honored for her unmistakable passion for building healthier communities and ability to empower volunteers and collaborate with staff partners. She was a key force behind the country’s first local policy victory associated with a Health Strategies priority truly owned by a local board — bringing CPR training to 4,700 students in San Francisco Unified schools. Programs she has championed and that our communities now benefit from as a result include the Greater Bay Area and Silicon Valley Research Reception, Kids and Teens Cook With Heart, improvements to San Francisco’s STEMI System of Care and promoting the Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax.

Rome Betts Award Winner - Malka SierraMalka Serra is recognized for achieving outstanding results through strong volunteer engagement, relationships with key channel partners and serving as a highly credible, consistent, trusted community partner. Her work has taken the Food and Beverage Toolkit, Hands-Only CPR and the Blood Pressure Algorithm to communities across Los Angeles County. Malka has engaged community partners with a common goal to improve the health of individuals with the highest of needs. She engaged 78,000 individuals in activities from FAST to Simple Cooking With Heart to Go Red. We should also mention her leadership of the Wellness Center project in Los Angeles. It supports and empowers individuals and families to gain the knowledge and resources to prevent and manage chronic diseases and improve their lives. This project started four years ago and Malka has been an active champion in making this unique community resource available.

Eric Batch - Rome Betts Award WinnerEric Batch’s impressive track record built over 11 ½ years led to a record 18 policy victories last year. His innovative and transformational leadership of the Advocacy and Government Relations team made it possible for these policies to become reality. His vision and strategic thinking empowered a strong team to think big and inspired volunteer leadership. Their policy victories will be the ones we talk about in years ahead when we consider the AHA’s leading role in creating a culture of health for our families and communities. Consider the nation’s first Sugar Sweetened Beverage fee in Berkeley; Nevada becoming the first state to obtain both a “Competitive Foods” and “Junk Food Marketing in Schools” policy goal win; San Francisco becoming the first major city to approve CPR as a graduation requirement; and Hawaii becoming the first state to raise the legal age for purchase of cigarettes to 21 years.

This award is named in honor of Rome Betts who was our first national executive director upon the AHA becoming a voluntary health association. From 1949 to 1968, he led our expansion in life-saving education, service and research and carved our reputation as the leading voluntary health organization dedicated to cardiovascular health. Each year, affiliates and National Center nominate individuals for this honor and, as you might imagine, it’s highly competitive given the amazing level of talent we have.

Congratulations to our award winners – we are so proud of you!

By |November 18th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

WSA hosts special guests at Scientific Sessions

WSA staff and volunteers at Scientific Sessions 2015The affiliate was honored to host very special guests earlier this week at Scientific Sessions in Orlando. Joining us were Jean C. Tamura from Hawaii; David and Genell Schlotterbeck from Orange County; David and Mary Carroll from San Diego County; Jennifer Carmer from Phoenix and Dr. Luiz and Laura Belardinelli from the Greater Bay Area. It was a wonderful opportunity for them to see first-hand how their generosity impacts lifesaving research.

We were all in awe when the announcement was made at the Opening Session about the AHA’s monumental new partnership with Google Life Sciences. This collaboration aims to understand, reverse and prevent coronary heart disease. Nancy Brown and Google Life Sciences CEO Dr. Andrew Conrad explained that as part of  “1 Team, 1 Vision, $50,000,000” each of our organizations is investing $25 million over roughly five years to create a single team of specialists from a variety of fields to find new ways to solve the challenges posed by coronary heart disease.

Thanks to Kelly Grose, Christine Dittmer, Jason Belland, Sheyna Daniels, Lori Suan and Megan Ely who joined me in hosting our guests and making sure they experienced the many aspects of Scientific Sessions. What an incredible experience as they met with researchers and subject-matter experts, visited poster sessions and interfaced with top cardiovascular scientists from around the world.

You can view a few pictures from the event on our WSA Flickr page!

By |November 12th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments|