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!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Governor Quinn announces $21.7 million award to create “Safe Routes to School”

GateHouse News Service Posted Jan 24, 2012 @ 03:17 PM

Springfield, Ill. — Governor Pat Quinn today announced $21.7 million in Illinois Safe Routes to School grants to schools and communities across the state. The federally-funded program is designed to enable and encourage children to walk and bike to school safely.

“These projects enhance roads, sidewalks, and other infrastructure within communities, which is important in keeping both drivers and pedestrians safe,” Governor Quinn said. “Encouraging children to walk and bike to school not only makes school routes safer, but also improves the quality of life for Illinois residents by easing traffic congestion and reducing emissions.”

The 229 funded projects support sidewalk repair and equipment for police and crossing guards. The funding includes $1.5 million to assist communities with safety training, educational materials, and public service announcements encouraging safe walking and biking to school. This will help ensure a consistent statewide program and favorable outcomes from the Safe Routes to Schools projects.

“The Illinois Safe Routes to School grants help us build pedestrian-friendly roads and sidewalks while educating students and families on the importance of alternative forms of transportation and the benefits of an active lifestyle,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said. “With these funds, we are also able to help communities implement projects aimed at lowering fuel consumption and air pollution.”

“This is exciting news for the entire state,” said Ron Burke, Executive Director of the Active Transportation Alliance, an advocacy organization that works to improve conditions for biking, walking and public transportation. “When we make bicycling and walking to school safer and more convenient, we are making our air cleaner and helping more kids get active and healthy.”

Illinois Safe Routes to School is a program of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, designed to enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school and encourage a healthy lifestyle from an early age. The program also facilitates projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution in the vicinity of primary and middle schools.

For more information about the Illinois Safe Routes to School Program and to view a list of funded projects, visit

Aledo Times Record:

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Personal is Political: Why Preventative Health Policies Matter

Editor’s Note: Rebecca Portman is interning with the American Heart Association Chicago office this semester. She is a student at Northwestern University who started her internship with us at the beginning of the year. Her responsibilities include contributing weekly to this blog. Please enjoy her latest post.

The Personal is Political: Why Preventative Health Policies Matter

When I left home for Northwestern in the fall of 2009, I saw college as an opportunity to figure out what I really cared about and wanted to devote my time to. I had chosen to major in Social Policy, but I had little idea of what that really meant or what type of policy I was interested in working on.

On a personal level, as freshman year began I struggled to find balance in my life. I felt the need to make friends, establish myself as a future leader in a student group (or two or three), and do well in classes. I had retired from my career as a competitive ice hockey player, and the lure of all-you-can-eat buffet style dining halls and Friday night “hot cookie bar” began to take a toll on my health.

I wish I could say there was a life-changing moment when I realized my mistakes and decided to take control of my health once and for all. But in reality, my fitness awakening happened sporadically. It has taken two and a half years of trying and failing and trying again at making healthy eating and exercise consistent for me to ultimately find a place of balance, moderation, and comfort with my health. I’ve come to realize that my personal wellbeing will always be a work in progress. In the process, however, fitness has become not just a priority, but also a passion.

Here’s where things get complicated: not everyone wants to spend as much time as I do reading about antioxidants or making complex workout plans. Most people don’t want to count calories, can’t afford a personal trainer or expensive gym membership, and couldn’t tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats. As I tried to lead a healthy lifestyle, it became more and more apparent that by doing so, I was actually going against the accepted norm—not just of stereotypical pizza-eating, beer-drinking college students, but of the majority of Americans. Our national holidays celebrate overeating, our supermarkets are filled with processed, sugary food products, and our national pastime is watching television. It is no wonder that 33% of American adults are obese (28% of Illinoisans), when poor health has become so embedded in our culture. Temptation is everywhere -- even here at the AHA!

It struck me: if it is so difficult for me to resist temptation and take good care of myself, how much harder must it be for other people with real responsibilities, financial difficulties or pre-existing health conditions? I struggle to stay healthy despite having the luxuries of abundant free time, access to an upscale gym facility on campus, and did I mention I live next door to a Whole Foods Market? So how can I possibly expect a single mother or father who works two jobs to overcome the monumental obstacles that stand in the way of good health?

Suddenly I had an answer to the looming question of what type of policy I wanted to work on. My seemingly personal problem was part of a greater societal ill, and I could do something about it not just for me but for everyone who has struggled to live a healthy lifestyle, if I worked to implement policies that promote good health and prevent obesity. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to eat a perfect diet or have six-pack abs. But in order to improve individual health on a grand-scale, we have to implement policies that bring us closer to being a society where fitness and nutrition receive positive and frequent reinforcement.

In the past two weeks, I have been excited to see just how much the Illinois Health Strategies team is doing to bring about the kind of healthy environment I would like to see one day. I helped to prepare a fact sheet to bolster the AHA’s efforts to eliminate waivers exempting schools from the statewide mandate for Physical Education in Illinois. I watched AHA volunteer Sandy Noel share her enthusiasm for health as a newly appointed chair of the Governor’s Council on Health and Physical Fitness. I assisted in the planning of two events that will bring members of Chicagoland Latino and African American communities together to learn about nutrition and get screened for health risks. As I have gotten settled in at the office, I have found it extremely rewarding to be able to do substantive work that I know is going towards a cause I believe in, and to spend time on something that matters to me—both personally and politically.

City of Chicago 2012 Proclamation for Wear Red Day

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proclaimed February 3, 2012 as National Wear Red in the City of Chicago and is urging all Chicagoans to show their support for women and the fight against heart disease by wearing red on that day.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Meijer and AHA Healthy Living Poster Contest

Leading a Healthier Life Poster Contest to encourage Chicago kids to eat healthier and stay physically active.

Just draw a picture of you and your family making healthy choices.
You may use crayons, markers or pencils, but no computer graphics.

The contest is open to kids age 12 or younger and runs from January 29 - February 11, 2012.

Entries will be judged on creativity, originality and effectiveness.

The Grand Prize winner will receive a gift basket valued at $100.
Two runners-up will receive a gift basket valued at $50.

Mail your poster (postmarked by Feb. 11) to:
Leading a Healthier Life Contest
c/o American Heart Association
208 S. LaSalle, Ste. 1500, Chicago, IL 60604
with the bottom form filled out by a parent/guardian.

Winners will be notified by Feb. 28.

Questions? Email the American Heart Association at

Monday, January 23, 2012

SSEEO Teleconference- Pseudo bulbar Affect or Involuntary Emotional Expressive Disorder (IEED)

Stroke Survivors Empowering Each Other (SSEEO) invites you to join a call-in support group for stroke survivors and their caregivers!

The SSEEO Toll-Free Telephone Stroke Support Group builds community, provides support and shares information by connecting survivors, caregivers, health professionals and other stroke stakeholders. The calls last approximately 60 minutes with the last 30 minutes reserved for questions and conversation. Please don’t forget to register by following the instructions below.
Tuesday, February 14th, 12:00-1:00pm central time: Pseudobulbar Affect or Involuntary Emotional Expression Disorder (IEED) presented by Dr. Melvin Wichter from Advocate Christ Medical Center. Dr Wichter will discuss a condition in which a person experiences uncontrollable episodes of emotional expression. That is, they have episodes of crying, laughter, or anger that are not in line with their present mood. IEED is seen most often following brain injury or in people with dementia, motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury. It can appear at any stage of the associated diseases.

Dr. Melvin Wichter, MD is a board certified neurologist who has practiced in the south suburban area since 1977. Dr. Wichter graduated from New York Medical College and completed his residency at New York University. At Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn Illinois, he is the Chief of the Neurology Department and was instrumental in the development of the stroke program. He is a well known educator, lecturer and mentor to his medical students and residents. During the course of his career he has been involved in many clinical studies and authored many articles about neurological conditions. His clinical interests include stroke and use of thrombolytic agents and ethics in medicine. He is a strong advocate for his patients always spending time educating staff, patients and families and offers emotional support.

IMPORTANT CALL-IN INFORMATION: Participation on the calls is absolutely free but advance registration is required due to limited line availability. Please contact us at 1-888-988-8047 or and provide the following information: first and last name(s), mailing address, e-mail address and telephone number. We will get back to you with an 800 call-in number and pass code, which will allow you to access the conference call. Registration deadline is February 13th.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Please join us for Chicago’s first-ever Go Red for Women Community Expo!

Friday, February 24, 2012

UIC Forum (located at Roosevelt & Halsted)

8:30 am – 1:30 pm

At the expo, you will have the opportunity to take part in heart-health screenings, including tests for blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol and blood sugar. The event will also include town hall-style question and answer sessions in English and in Spanish, featuring physicians and other health care professionals from throughout the Chicagoland area. Throughout the morning, there will also be interactive workshops on heart-healthy living.

To register, log on to or see the attached flyer for more details.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Week 1 as an AHA Intern

Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to welcome Rebecca Portman to our team! She is a student at Northwestern University who started her internship with us at the beginning of the year. Her responsibilities include contributing weekly to this blog, beginning today with her introduction below. Welcome aboard Becca! We hope this will be a very positive and productive experience for you!

Greetings from the American Heart Association’s Chicago office! My name is Becca Portman, and I am interning with the AHA’s Midwest Affiliate in Illinois for the next ten weeks. To share a little bit about myself, I am currently a junior at Northwestern University majoring in Social Policy. At NU, I have been involved in various civic activities ranging from voter registration to labor organizing to direct political campaign work. On a personal level, I have developed a passion for health and wellness, and I hope to find a career that combines those two interests in some form.

I will be working (almost) full-time at the AHA this quarter in order to fulfill my school’s Practicum requirement, getting hands-on experience with real-world policy issues. I will graduate from college in December of this year, and I frequently get questions about what I want to do when I enter the “real world.” Much to my parents’ chagrin, at this point, I still don’t have a clear answer! That’s why I feel extremely lucky to have found a position here at the AHA. During my stay here, I will be splitting my time between the Advocacy, Quality Initiatives, and Health Equity departments. I have the opportunity to get an inside look at the workings of the AHA, learn about the various arms of a large, non-profit health organization, and understand on an intimate level how they function as one. I am excited to try my hand at lobbying, coalition-building, event planning, and much more. In the past three days I was able to learn and present a PowerPoint slideshow about cardiovascular health for community groups, attend a videoconference about Health Strategies with the leaders of the Midwest Affiliate, meet with some incredible women from the National Association of Health Services Executives, and have lunch at the Berghoff Café (a Chicago institution, I’m told) for the first time. What a week!

Over the next ten weeks, I can expect to learn a ton--both about AHA and about myself. I’m sure there will be some things that I am good at, and plenty of things that I am not, some things that I enjoy, and some that I could certainly do without. I will write here every week to share my experiences and musings on life as an intern, and bring fresh eyes to the many health issues faced by AHA staff members on a daily basis. If I do my job right, I will provide some valuable work and help AHA accomplish its mission while getting a better idea of what I want to do with my life. Stay tuned to see how things go!

AHA Volunteers Attend National Prevention Strategy in Chicago

Kathleen and the US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin

On December 8th the first regional meeting of the National Prevention Strategy was held in Chicago. American Heart Association volunteers, Drs. Andy Rauh and Lynne Braun, along with select staff members had the opportunity to learn more about the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health. The Advisory Group was required by the Affordable Care Act and individuals were appointed by the President. The Advisory Group’s role includes the following:
- Develop policy and program recommendations
- Advise the National Prevention Council on lifestyle-based chronic disease prevention and management, integrative health care practices and health promotion.

To learn more visit,

Monday, January 9, 2012

Join us at Go Red Connect!

Ladies! Come to Macy's at Woodfield Mall on Saturday, Feb. 4th, and share your story of how you are connected with heart disease, whether you have experienced it through a loved one or have been a survivor yourself. Connect with others and learn how you can help us save a woman's life today. Be the difference between life and death at Go Red CONNECT.

Participants will be considered for the national Go Red For Women® campaign which features real women.

The facts are clear. More women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. Unfortunately, the killer isn't as easy to see. Heart disease is often silent, hidden and misunderstood. Uncover the truth about heart disease and make ending it a reality.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 2012 EVP Letter - You're The Cure; Advocacy Efforts

January 2012

Dear Friend of Heart:

Thirty years ago, the American Heart Association developed a new strategy to amplify the voices and improve the lives of millions of Americans struggling with heart disease and stroke. Harnessing the passion of amazing volunteers from every corner of the country, we took to the steps of the Capitol and began advocating for legislation to improve the lives of heart and stroke patients.

Armed with American Heart Association science, these passionate volunteers used their personal stories to give faces and names to the fight against two of our nation’s leading killers. These coordinated efforts have led to major lifesaving changes, including doubling the NIH budget for biomedical research from 1998 to 2003 and the passage of statewide clean indoor air laws across the country. These kinds of victories save lives and change lives for millions of people, and would not be possible without extraordinary volunteers leading the charge.

Our volunteers have many faces, and many reasons for joining the American Heart Association’s lifesaving mission. Some of them are survivors. Some have lost loved ones to heart disease or stroke. But all of them have shown an unwavering commitment to building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

One of these extraordinary individuals is Stevie Nelson, a Minnesota resident whose life changed when he suffered a stroke on April 22, 1998. One year later, Stevie began his quest to improve outcomes for stroke patients through volunteerism. He has lobbied at both the local and federal level for stroke funding and has seen first-hand how his personal testimony can effect change.

“Being a volunteer gave me a new mission, a new purpose in life,” Nelson said. “My goal is to pass my knowledge on so others can lead healthier lives. Some of the things I have fought and advocated for have come into law. Just knowing I played a part in that is a great feeling.”

Because of Stevie, and millions of others like him, we have celebrated many victories in the three decades we’ve been advocating for lifesaving public policies. But our work is not done. Heart disease is still our nation’s No. 1 killer, and stroke is No. 4. I encourage you to join our amazing corps of volunteers by signing up for our You're the Cure network at You can learn more about our work and meet more of our volunteers by watching our 30th Anniversary celebration video, or by visiting and clicking on Advocate.

Being a You’re the Cure advocate gives you the opportunity to lend your voice to our legislative efforts. It’s fast, it’s simple and it’s free.

And with this one simple step, you can help the American Heart Association make the next 30 years better than the last.

Warm regards,

Kevin D. Harker
Executive Vice President, Midwest Affiliate