By Laurie Stephenson
On September 9th, I had the distinct pleasure of representing the Southern New England affiliate of the American Heart Association in Washington, D.C. at The White House. I attended a forum titled: Making Health Care Better specifically in the field of Cardiovascular Health.
I joined several hundred health care professionals, advocates, scientists, patients, survivors, and executives who all came together that day wearing red to share their passion to improve the cardiovascular lives of others, not only in their families, their communities, but across our nation spanning age, race, income level, and gender. I attended this summit not only as a long- time volunteer and advocate of the American Heart Association but also as a Congenital Heart Disease survivor. I was born in 1972 with pulmonary stenosis, a defect causing my pulmonary valve to develop closed. This defect caused me to have had two interventions open heart surgery’s before age 5 and obtain a full value replacement as an adult only six years ago at the age of 38.
The day at The White House from start to finish was considered a celebration. It was a celebration showcasing the incredible improvements in health care that this country has experienced under the leadership of our current administration. Advancements that included: a 9 pt. reduction in high school student’s tobacco use and nearly a 5 pt. reduction of tobacco use across in the total US population, more American’s receiving care thanks to the Affordable Care Act, increased cardio screenings in wellness exams, a first ever published guideline on stroke prevention in women, and mandatory guidelines for clinical trials to have to balance gender studies in their work.
The agenda was packed with expert panelists who not only have dedicated their lives to this worthy cause and have nothing but hope and optimism that the legacy of Putting Cardiovascular Health First will continue into the new 2017 administration.
Perhaps the highlight of the day, as I find it often to be the case, was hearing the remarkable survivor stories. These 6 women and men bravely shared their trials but more importantly their triumphs. They each had their own story to tell, but each one shared a theme of gratitude. They were grateful for the American Heart Association, and the advancements made by all of the people who work every day to end cardiovascular death for all Americans.
These survivors and I both traveled to the White House with a similar objective. We each wanted to deepen our connection to this cause. Thank you survivors Brandi, Annie, Gracie, Marcie, Pkaye, and Chris for a job well done! We have succeeded.
Laurie Stephenson is a member of the American Heart Association’s Rhode Island Board of Directors, a member of the Advocacy Committee and a Survivor of congenital heart defects. She is a mother of three and lives in Narragansett with her husband Sean.