Throughout the year, our blog will feature AHA volunteer stories of survival and hope. We know there are thousands of stories like these - thats why we want to say “Thanks” to all of you for giving your time and sharing your lives with us. You can’t spell CURE without U! Thank you for all you do to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. YOU’RE THE CURE!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Working on Eliminating Trans Fats in IL School Lunch

Follow the link to watch American Heart Association volunteer and advocate Dr. Kemia Sarraf talk about eliminating trans fats in Illinois school lunches.

February 28, 2011 (WLS) -- There's a new initiative to eliminate trans-fats from school lunches in Illinois.

It's been done in other states. Trans-fat is considered a health risk. Now, the American Heart Association is launching a campaign to get rid of them completely from school lunches and vending machines.

Heart attack warning signs: Chest discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, jaw or back pain

Stroke warning signs: Numbness of face, arm or leg, trouble speaking/understanding, trouble seeing, dizziness, severe headache

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Path For Heart Starters: A Q&A about Defibrillators

The American Heart Association was proud to work with the O’Sullivan family to pass legislation requiring AEDs in physical fitness facilities. The article below, which appeared in the Orland Park Patch today, demonstrates that even one person or a small group of people can make a huge difference in making Illinois heart-healthy.

Path For Heart Starters: A Q&A about Defibrillators
By Ben Feldheim

Lynne Donegan talks with Patch about losing her niece Colleen O'Sullivan to a heart attack, the legislation that followed and what has changed over the years in the effort to make Automated External Defibrillators more common.

Lynne Donegan and her family didn’t want anyone else to have the same experience.

In 2002, Donegan’s niece Colleen O’Sullivan, a health care lawyer, was working out with a trainer in Chicago to train for the city’s marathon. O’Sullivan collapsed from cardiac arrest while training and died about two weeks later. She was 30 years old, in great physical condition and heart disease doesn’t run in her family. Gyms and other places where people exercise in Illinois did not have Automated External Defibrillators on premises that can be used to start someone’s heart before paramedics arrive.
About two years later, a law was passed in Illinois that placed at least one AED in physical fitness facilities across the state, called the Colleen O’Sullivan law. Donegan, O’Sullivan’s aunt, and other family members worked to get the legislation through the Illinois General Assembly. The Orland School District 135 Board of Education secretary recently brought her thoughts on defibrillators to an assembly about life-saving methods at Jerling Junior High.

Donegan spoke with Patch about the winding road toward getting the law passed, what has changed since and how people react to the two sides of a life-saving, yet unfunded mandate.
What’s new with respect to the law? Are their any new initiatives to get AEDs in other places?
Certain places need to have them and some are exempt. Our big challenge now is to keep them from cutting in schools. In light of the economy, some legislators are finding a way to make them optional. The Chicago Park District may be exempt from having them for all sorts of financial reasons. We were working to get them on public transit like the Metra trains. When the law came out it covered such a wide variety, and over the years we try to tweak it and make it more common-sense based. Defibrillators out near outdoor ball fields may not be practical. But keeping them inside buildings instead of at ball fields makes sense. It’s the first law of its kind in the country, and we’re the first state with the law, so it’s a learning process.
What have you learned since the law passed?
After Colleen passed away, a Northwestern football player named Rashidi Wheeler collapsed on the field. So there was an add-on to the law to apply to outdoor facilities, running tracks, practice fields and so on. Anything that was outdoors. We were more focused on schools and other places that were enclosed. I hear a lot that it’s harder to implement at an outdoor facility. The goal is to make it as practical as possible, and not impossible.
It’s been a trial and error period of the years. We’ve learned is what’s practical and what isn’t. Especially since it’s an unfunded mandate. Our original goal was to have AEDs at health clubs. That made sense. In order for people to vote for it they wanted their piece of the pie too. That was a learning process for us as a family. We simply didn’t want other people to go through what we went through. And over the years tweaks have been made. The Governor’s office implemented a grant called the Heartsaver Fund, which will help defray the costs for purchasing AEDs.
Getting this law implemented wasn’t an easy process at all. There were a lot of tears and arguments just to get people to see your way. We just wanted to get people to understand that you don’t want to get a phone call in the middle of the night that what happened to Colleen just happened to someone you love.

Describe the path this took from Colleen’s death to the law being voted in.
She was training for the Chicago marathon in downtown Chicago when she collapsed. People panicked. No one could find a defibrillator and no one started CPR. All that could be done was to hold her hand and wait for the paramedics. By the time (paramedics) got there, well, the brain can only go without oxygen for so long, and she was well beyond that time. Colleen remained in a coma for about two weeks, and she essentially passed away. There were no signs of any kind of heart disease, nothing runs in family and she was in the greatest shape of her life.

Because of her connection to law, and friends who worked in Springfield, they felt the need and capacity to do something. Inadvertently at same time, Representative Dan Burke had been trying since 1996 to get such a law passed. They ended up calling it Colleen’s Bill.
Not long after her death, they contacted us, but we were in no shape to talk to anyone. About 3 months later, in August 2002, they got us interested, but it was hard for my sister. I was the mouthpiece for the family and it just snowballed from there. It gained great momentum, and we had several people on its side.

But the governor at the time (Rod Blagojevich) vetoed it and we went back to work. I was angry and frustrated. Just because you think something is a fundamental right doesn’t mean all of Springfield will fall behind you. I wondered how they sleep at night.
We called village governments in Orland and Tinley, which is where she was from, Frankfort, Downers Grove. We also were in touch with the Blackhawks, the Bulls, United Airlines, police departments, and they all made phone calls in support. That got people’s attention. Soon after that colleges and universities got behind it. Athletes collapsing during practices aren’t new. Who hasn’t heard that before on the news? We used Facebook, and first responders got involved. We went with that momentum, got it passed and it was signed by the governor in 2004.

What was the feeling among the family once the law passed?
It was kind of bittersweet. For all the hard work, tears and arguments there was this “ah ha” moment when we realized it won’t bring Colleen back. But it will save many lives, and it already has. Medical personnel have said it increases a person’s survival rate if they go into cardiac arrest two to three times over if nothing was there. The American Heart Association has also stood behind the effort. We’ve had great legislators on our side.

AEDs were already in place in District 135. The previous superintendent, Dennis Soustek, implemented a policy of teaching first aid, CPR and the AEDs in 7th grade health class. He said he did it because it was right thing to do.

I was amazed at this last assembly, just blown away by how big it was and how well it was put together. February is a big month for heart issues, so it’s the time to get up and bang the drum.

What reactions do you commonly get to the idea of mandated AEDs?
The fact that it is an unfunded mandate usually leads to the biggest push back. People say, ‘We’re forced to pay for something again, and we don’t know if we want to but we’re told we have to comply.’ But I always say this unfunded mandate can save a life. It’s not a tax. AEDs should be schools, airports, government buildings like the assessor’s office, wherever people are stressed the most.

Usually people who are the biggest detractors say they are forced to buy this. But often a couple of months later, (an AED) just saved someone’s life. Then they realize it saved a life. And someone comes back and says just that. What blows me away, what means more than anything to me, is when we are done with press conferences, or in D.C. talking to officials, and someone comes up and thanks us for saving a life. The first time that happened, it really took me back. My husband said for the first time I was speechless.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Illinois schools may cancel trans fats from cafeteria

Appeared February 8, 2011 in Illinois Statehouse News

By Diane S.W. Lee SPRINGFIELD — Hold the french fries. Cancel the pizza. Skip the corn dog.
New legislation introduced in the state House proposes to ban vegetable oils and foods with trans fat from being served in public schools beginning in July 2016-17.

House Bill 137 sponsored by state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, would require the Illinois State Board of Education to adopt rules requiring public schools to “provide healthy menu options.”

“Childhood obesity is always an issue in Illinois and across the country,” Ford said. “And if we can just look at ways to eliminate some of the reasons that childhood obesity is out of control — we should, and this is one of the ways.”

Trans fat is found in vegetable shortenings, some margarine, fried foods, snacks and baked goods, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Trans fat raises bad cholesterol, increasing risks of coronary heart disease, according to FDA.

The legislation would require public schools statewide to eliminate trans fat from foods sold at cafeterias and vending machines. Similar legislation was introduced in the past, but failed to garner enough support from lawmakers. Ford said support from the American Heart Association gives the legislation a better chance at passing.

But the switch might mean higher costs for school districts.“It is just another regulation, potentially, (that) can be put in place without regard to costs,” said Virgil Moore, superintendent of East Alton School District.

At East Alton Middle School on Wednesday, lunch included spaghetti and meat sauce, cheese sticks, wise fries, green beans and spice cake. Menu planning is already tough for the district, Moore said.

“All of our food choices are run through computer programs, so that we try to get a good healthy balance,” Moore said. “And when you have to limit a food just because it has trans fats, you also limit the other benefits that come with it.”

Danville School District’s lunch menu on Wednesday included corn dog, hash browns, western baked beans, vegetable and apple slices. The school has tried to offer healthier options, like turkey hot dogs and reduced fat cheese pizza, officials said.“We have a buffet line, and we have a home-cooked meal once a week, and on the other days we have the favorite foods that we know children like,” said Brenda Demos, the district’s food service director. “But we also try to write specifications for our vendors to get healthier foods.”

But schools are at the “mercy of food manufacturers,” which should offer items at a reasonable cost, Demos said.

“The bottom line is we do want to do what is best for children, and we just want to make sure that we can afford to do what‘s best for children,” Demos said.

Schools shouldn’t feed children trans fats, according to Ford, who described the fats as “chemicals that are poisonous.”“I think that they should have a choice of good foods,” the delegate said. “And McDonald’s has eliminated trans fats. And so if McDonald’s can do it, and you heard no complaints from parents, then I think that the state can do it also in our schools.”

Susan Harkin, chief financial officer of Crystal Lake Elementary School District, said that lawmakers’ intentions are usually good. However, Harkin said she has an issue with “unfunded mandates.”“Everybody expects school districts to do more, and yet, don’t want to fund what that more is,” Harkin said.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Don't Miss our Go Red Connect! Events on Saturday

Hopefully, by this weekend, the shoveling will be done and we’ll be anxiously waiting for the big melt! To make the time go a little bit faster, get out and attend one of our Go Red Connect! events happening Saturday, February 5th.

At the event, you can share your story for a chance to become a Go Red For Women® spokesperson. Connect with your heart, with the hearts of those you love, and with the hearts of your community. Make It Your Mission at Go Red Connect!

Go Red Connect! in the Chicago area at Macy’s Orland Square from 1 to 4 p.m.

Go Red Connect! in Springfield at Macy’s White Oaks Mall from 1 to 3 p.m.

And remember to Wear Red on Friday for National Wear Red Day!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ask Your Legislators to Wear Red on Friday and celebrate American Heart Month!

It's February 1, marking the start of American Heart Month! There are exciting things happening across Illinois and our nation this month as we work to raise awareness about America's number one killer - heart disease.

Join us in wearing red this Friday, February 4, for National Wear Red Day.

A recent report from the American Heart Association stated that the cost of treating cardiovascular disease will TRIPLE over the next 20 years unless we are focused on education, prevention and advancing positive public policy changes. That is why it's important that you Ask Your Legislators to Wear Red on Friday in celebration of National Wear Red Day and work on public policies that will make Illinois - and our nation - healthier for all of us!

Thank you for your continued support!

Your IL Advocacy Team,
Alex Meixner, Anne Simaytis, Mark Peysakhovich