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.
Katie Coombs is a writer, speaker and radio show host in Reno, Nevada. She is a wife and busy mom to seven kids. Katie also has a chronic heart condition. She uses her experience to inspire others and give them hope.
On August 5, 2012, after nine years of living with supraventricular tachycardia, I was driving to meet a client at a restaurant and noticed that my heart was beating incredibly fast. I started feeling numbness in my arms and legs as I parked and was lucky that I had a blue tooth set up in my car when I called 911 as I couldn’t hold my phone. That was my first ambulance ride and with my husband out of town, I felt very alone and scared. It was also the first time I thought I was going to die from my heart condition leaving behind our blended family of six children.
Several months later, after repeated emergency room visits, I would have my second cardiac ablation. In this procedure they continued to inject adrenaline into my bloodstream and it created a feeling of terror I had never experienced. I was crying throughout and unfortunately they could not get my heart to go into the needed abnormal rhythm and find the pathways causing the problem. I left the operating room feeling like a failure and feeling like my life was over at age 40. I didn’t have any way to fix the problem and I was scared to even get in my car alone. A change in medication brought some stability, but many times I would be driving alone and my heart would go from 75 beats per minute to over 200 in an instant. I was determined to continue living the same life but it was getting harder.
On a drive home one night from the office I was stuck on a bridge and my irregular rhythm started. I decided then and there that it would not control me or change my life. It would not stop me from working and traveling and coaching. It would not take me away from my children. From that day forward, I vowed to take power over the situation and even though the problem comes and goes, I refuse to give into fear. I laugh at it or just feel slightly annoyed but never scared. It owned me for almost a decade but I took my life back and now it must deal with me rather than me dealing with it.
In February of 2017, I was honored to kick off the American Heart Month for the American Heart Association. I was a speaker at a press conference and after I told my story, strangers were coming up to me thanking me for giving them hope. One young man had stepped out of the elevator and stopped when he heard me speaking. He had just been diagnosed with a heart condition and said that hearing my story changed his paralyzing fear to hope. I didn’t realize until I started speaking for the American Heart Association that I could take this difficult health problem and turn it into something so positive. I have spoken several times this year and written about my story for several magazines. It has been healing to me to not only finally truly accept that I have a chronic condition, but realize that my experiences can provide hope to someone feeling scared and alone. There is a fulfilling life beyond cardiovascular problems. Taking back my life gave me the courage to have one more baby via a surrogate. We named him Miles to honor the journey we all take through good times and bad times. I now have seven children that are counting on me to continue to conquer and win!
Donna Kato is the Communications and Marketing Director for the American Heart Association in the Silicon Valley and North Central Coast, California and Boise, Idaho markets. She was a journalist for most of her career and became a media relations professional in 2009. She started working for the American Heart Association in April 2016.
As I start my second year at the American Heart Association, it’s become clear that the best part of my job is meeting community members and having them share their stories of how cardiovascular disease has touched their lives. A recent experience inspired me to share this story via a guest blog post.
“I am considering contributing to your organization because I have history of heart disease in my family,” wrote Adam Vichik, a 7th grader at Palo Alto’s Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School. After contacting and interviewing Western States Affiliate Vice President of Communications Julie Kaufmann, Adam chose the American Heart Association for his class philanthropy project. The assignment is intended to educate students about nonprofits and connect them to the spirit of giving. As he learned more about our mission, research network and community initiatives, he knew it was a perfect fit.
Adam created a storyboard that he shared during a school open house and Celebration of Tzedakah (Hebrew for righteous giving) assembly. Guests included parents and representatives from the dozens of nonprofits that were the recipients of the funds raised by the students throughout the year – and included the donation of part of their Bar and Bat Mitzvah gifts. Prior to the event, students presented to each other and voted on how the pot of dollars they raised would be distributed among the organizations. I had the privilege of attending this event and accepting the $1,385 that Adam raised for our Silicon Valley division. My colleague, Senior Director of Community Health Mike Gonzalez, will work with Adam to show him how the money will be spent on a public education activity.
In a time when sensational events and politics dominate the news, I was moved by this selfless and inspiring young man and this school project that gently teaches kids that giving and helping others can start with them. I was reminded yet again of why I love working for a voluntary nonprofit organization.
The final week in June brought more than 300 American Heart Association volunteer advocates from across the country descended on Washington DC for our Heart on the Hill federal lobby day, aimed at “lifting the burden of heart disease and stroke.” More than two dozen survivors, researchers, caregivers, physicians and staff from the Western State Affiliate attended, sharing their personal stories of the burden of heart disease and stroke, and shining a light on steps Congress could take to lift that burden.
Advocates urged senators and representatives to support a $2 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health. Did you know that just 4 percent of NIH funding goes to heart research and just 1 percent goes to stroke research? Additionally, advocates asked members of Congress to sign on as co-sponsors to two bills that would increase access to care for thousands of Americans 1. the FAST Act would ensure Medicaid reimburses providers for telemedicine consultations and 2. A bill to allow qualified non-physician medical providers to oversee cardiac rehab programs.
Perhaps the most exciting (and timely!) issue was the ongoing debate around health care reform. As our volunteers descended on D.C., Senate Republicans released their proposal to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. So the timing couldn’t have been better for advocates to visit with members of Congress and urge them to find a solution that would adhere to our principles of “affordability, accessibility and adequacy.”
Thank you to all of our volunteers and staff who made this year’s event one to remember!
Ticker and the American Heart Association Life is Why platform met tens of thousands of parade goers “where they are” to celebrate community and America’s Independence at the 23rd Annual Oceanside Independence Parade. I understand that Ticker was quite excited to be featured on TV during pre-event coverage!
Special thanks to Life is Why cause sponsor Tri-City Medical Center for inviting us to participate and help raise heart and brain health awareness, as well as awareness about our collaborative campaign. It was also a great opportunity to promote the North County Heart Walk, which will take place on September 30, 2017. Volunteers handed out some 500 Heart Walk flyers!