Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Heart Walk 2008!!

This past Saturday was our annual Heart Walk here in Arkansas. God blessed us with the best weather of the season, and an OUTSTANDING group of volunteers and walkers. In the last 8 years I have been at the Heart Walk in many capacities, from organizer to emcee. This year I was thrilled to be there as the Advocacy (lobbyist) committee representative. It was a wonderful to time to catch up on with old friends who are there every year, celebrating their survival and helping raise funds for life saving research and legislation. My favorite friend to see every year is Kirk Johnston. I first met Kirk when he was only 5 years old, and after having survived multiple heart surgeries. Kirk’s parent’s had already lost a daughter in infancy to a heart condition, and in this I can empathize. Kirk was born with an equally life saving condition, but miraculously is with us today-a healthy, vibrant teen-ager. We were able to sign up many many more “heart warriors” - we had fabulous success getting the walkers to join “You’re the Cure”. Speaking of which, TODAY is national “You’re the Cure” lobby day in Washington DC! Barbie Kumpe is there, along with a lovely mother/son team from Arkansas who plan to share their story of survival with our nations legislators. I was unable to attend this year, as tomorrow is the day I’ll be meeting with the Health Minister of the UK to discuss beginning the BMI program in his country. I am so blessed to get to be part of this international movement toward a heart healthy future!

Monday, April 28, 2008

We need your Stinky Sneakers TODAY!!

Tomorrow is You’re the Cure on the Hill- the American Heart Association’s federal lobby day, and hundreds of You’re the Cure advocates will be on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to pass legislation to help counter the childhood obesity epidemic we presently face.

With the event now only hours away, I wanted to remind you to take part in our Sneakers for FIT Kids Photo Petition, so we can demonstrate the widespread support for the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act (FIT Kids Act).

Remember, the FIT Kids Act would amend No Child Left Behind to ensure the quality and quantity of physical education begin provided in our public schools is prioritized. Tomorrow is an important step in our efforts to see that this important bill is passed, and your participation today can have an invaluable impact on the outcome.

There is still time for you to take part in the Sneakers for FIT Kids Photo Petition. All it requires is that you take these three easy steps:

1) Take A Picture Of Your Well-Used, Stinky Sneakers – Whether they are high tops, tennis shoes or cross trainers, just snap a photo of your sneakers or of you being active in your sneakers. And get creative- create a sign expressing your support to include in the shot!

2) Send Your Picture To Take a look at the hundreds of sneaker pictures we have already received. We would like to add your photo too so we can demonstrate to Congress that ensuring the health of our kids is an important priority.

3) Wear Your Sneakers April 29th – Even if you cannot join us at You’re the Cure on the Hill in person, be sure to wear your sneakers tomorrow to raise awareness of the issue and show your solidarity with our cause.

In closing, I would like to thank you on behalf of the American Heart Association – and the millions of kids whose lives you can make healthier – for supporting our campaign.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

2008 Red Cap Rally

April 16th we at the AHA celebrated our annual Red Cap Rally. The Red Cap Rally is a wonderful celebration for survivors of heart disease and stroke. This year the Rally was held at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, where our very own Arkansas Razorbacks play their SEC football games. Now, you need to understand that the whole football connection really means nothing to me, but my beautiful and loving husband was really excited about it, so it is important to me too! It was just an overwhelming event; what an amazing experience it was to look out over the sea of red caps from the podium, and realize that our efforts at the AHA contribute to each one of those saved lives. I’m not exactly certain how many were in attendance, but early estimates were between 600 and a thousand. We were entertained by a great band made up of Cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons from across the state, and heard words from Dr. Weeks, head of Cardiology at Baptist Health. I was asked to speak about the Legislative Advocacy Committee, what we do, and how the public can help us in our efforts. I asked the attendees to sign up for the “You’re the Cure” network. You’re the Cure is the Advocacy component of the AHA, and I have served as chairman of the directorship committee for the last three years. YTC collects email and residency information from its membership and then notifies said membership when legislative issues are coming before their elected officials that need action. As little as two clicks of your mouse can contact your representatives and tell them to TAKE ACTION on these life saving measures. We were so blessed to sign up dozens of new members to our action team that night.

There are few events that I participate in where picture taking is appropriate. But, this wasn’t one of those, so I hope you enjoy the few snapshots, and enjoy getting to see some the faces that are working daily to save lives by changing laws!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Amazing things happening with our Lobbyist Group!

I have so much to share today! Yesterday was the committee meeting of the lobbyist group on which I serve for the AHA, and we have so much work ahead of us for the 2009 season. Of course, our next official legislative season does not begin until January of 2009, but we begin NOW to plan, write and find sponsors for bills that are going to be argued in that upcoming session. There are going to be many carry-over issues from last session. There are huge life saving/changing issues that require further support and action, as well as new issues that we are going to wrestle.

First, last session we were successful in the passage of The AED Act, which mandated that all public schools in Arkansas have Automatic Electronic Defibrillators…pending funding. While it was a great success to have the bill fly through both houses like it did, not having the funding piece included basically made it ineffective. We basically had an unfunded mandate, and those have little value. That left it up to organizations like mine, Taking Wellness to Heart, to find funding for these devices. While we placed several last year we certainly do not have the capability to place one in every public school in the state. Sadly, in the 2007 school year we lost a Little Rock school student to cardiac arrest. Had there been an AED present his life might not have been forfeit. In reaction to all of the above we are writing an addendum to the AED Act, which will provide one million dollars in state funding to provide these life saving devices statewide. Rep. Sandra Prater, who sponsored the AED Act for us, has agreed to sponsor the addendum. We have every indication that this addendum will also fly through both Houses. We are also working on a set of “considerations” for the schools to use when purchasing their AED, and the protocol to put in place for their use. We want to make sure that the public schools are buying FDA tested and approved devices, and have someone on staff trained in the proper usage of the device.

Second, we are working diligently on increasing the excise tax on tobacco products. I am ashamed to say that Arkansas has an excise tax of only 59 cents. Many states in our nation have a tax of 3-4 dollars per pack. Studies show that for every 10% increase in the tax on a packet of cigarettes usage decreases by 10%. This will also increase tax monies available for other state health initiatives. The AHA takes no state funding, and therefore the state cannot tell us what to do with our funds. However, we strongly support our initiative partners receiving “devoted” funds. This would mean that the American Cancer Society and other health organizations would have the potential to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from this tax. Sadly, our new Governor is not a fan of “devoted” funds, so we have an uphill battle before us on this issue.

Third, we are again working on a State-Wide Stroke Trauma System. This would create a system of medical facilities across the state to treat stroke victims in the critical first three hours. It will take approximately 25 million dollars in yearly funding to create the trauma system, and getting both houses to agree on where those funds will come from has created a difficulty. Last session both houses agreed that the system was imperative, and recognized its life saving benefits. Arkansas leads the nation in deaths by stroke. However, each house had its own ideas on how to fund the project on a long term basis. This next session our focus will be on getting the two houses to agree on funding, and begin the lengthy process of setting up this life saving system.

Most exciting of all, we have been asked by the Health Ministry of the UK to help them establish a BMI testing protocol in their various countries. Arkansas passed Act 1220 in 2003, and set the benchmark for the US for this life changing program. We now have five years worth of experience with this very sensitive issue, and the UK wants to see how we have put the program in place, how we have handled the dissemination of the information, and how we have handled the back lash from teachers and parents. We will be meeting with them this month, and traveling to them during the next calendar year. Who would have EVER thought a piece of legislation that I worked on would be of interest on an International level, and who would believe that the tiny state of Arkansas would be an example to the world??? I am overwhelmed!

April the 16th I’ll be speaking to more than 1000 heart disease survivors at the Arkansas Red Cap Rally, and April 26th we’ll be celebrating the Central Arkansas Heart Walk. May the 31st is CPR Across Arkansas, where we hope to train 1000 people on CPR administration.

SO many exciting things going on-stay posted!!