“The morning of September 12, 2012 I had a stroke. I was an athletic and healthy 24-year-old who had no idea what the stroke symptoms were. Despite my lack of knowledge I was one of the lucky few that received treatment in time. I was given a TPA or ‘clot-busting’ shot with very few minutes to spare in the three-hour window for which the drug could be used post-stroke onset. Miraculously, I have no residual effects on my brain. Since then I have dedicated much of my time to sharing my personal story with others to encourage stroke prevention and awareness. It is imperative to educate the next generation of community leaders about heart health and stroke prevention,” says Bri Winkler, a fellow PULSE committee member from the American Heart Association (AHA) Los Angeles Chapter.
We are inundated with numbers and statistics on a daily basis. At times these statistics can seem just like mere numbers or they can seem so overwhelming that we are left asking ourselves, "Where do we even start to solve the problem?" What is even more amazing is how these numbers can begin to represent a unique story, with a much deeper meaning when replaced with the face of a loved one or a peer.
I began my journey with the American Heart Association in April 2012 as a desire to prevent the preventable. I wanted to align myself with an organization that was making a measurable impact in improving the cardiovascular health of our nation through education, research, and advocacy.
While a graduate student of public health, I was bombarded with alarming facts: heart disease strikes someone in the US every 34 seconds; 32 percent of American children and 68 percent of American adults are overweight or obese; and direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular disease and stroke totals more than $315.4 BILLION, which includes health expenditures and loss of productivity. But you also learn that by adhering to specific health behaviors, like maintaining a healthy diet and body weight, engaging in regular physical activity, and living a smoke-free life, your risk for developing heart disease or having a stroke can diminish greatly.
On January 4, 2013 my journey with the American Heart Association took a new turn and became much more personal when my dad began suffering of angina, or pain due to lack of oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart muscle, while riding his bike on vacation. Remember what I said about statistics being "mere numbers"? At the hospital, it was revealed that his artery was 95 percent occluded, or blocked, requiring the placement of stent in his artery. Fortunately, there was no damage to the heart muscle, and today he is back on his bike, having logged hundreds of miles, since. Over the course of our many conversations one thing that he said that has resonated with me was the fact that he felt like he was "lucky" to be alive. He was fortunate enough to have received high quality care at the right time.
But not everyone is so lucky. We constantly read about differences in health outcomes as a factor of gender, race/ethnicity and socio-economic status. An individual's socio-economic status can affect his/her ability to access care and even the affordability to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. Eliminating these health disparities, and ensuring health equity in the U.S. has been a top priority of the American Heart Association. For all of the aforementioned reasons my resolve to do something, to make an impact has been heightened that much more.
In May 2013, following suit of other AHA Chapters, I had the privilege to begin working with a group of dynamic, inspiring young professionals to form the PULSE Committee-Greater Los Angeles. The PULSE Committee is comprised of young professionals working together to build a strong beat of commitment to heart health and stroke prevention. We seek to engage, educate, and create opportunities for collaboration and discourse in order to change the health of our generation and future generations. Everything we do is in support of the American Heart Association's mission: to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
February is Heart Month. As the next generation of community leaders, we encourage you to join the PULSE Committee in building a strong beat of commitment to heart health and stroke prevention, especially within in Greater Los Angeles.
You can join us for the "Open Your Heart" kick-off event with the American Heart Association's PULSE Greater Los Angeles committee on February 9th. Click here for details and don't forget to wear red in celebration of American Heart Month.