Celebrate Life

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Our mission is to see a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. We want to celebrate survivors and their families as these brave men, women, and children are fighting back against heart disease and stroke each and every day.

Bill Amirault

The crowd cheered as Bill Amirault neared the finish line of the Key West Half Marathon in Florida. Suddenly, he felt faint and had tunnel vision, so he slowed to walk. Then he collapsed. Fellow runners and bystanders rushed to him. Luckily, the first three people to reach him were all nurses. They directed someone to call 911 and started CPR. They saved Bill’s life.

“Bill was purple and had labored breathing,” said Robbie, a nurse anesthetist from South Florida who kept Bill’s airway open until emergency help arrived. Emergency medical technicians used an automated external defibrillator, or AED, to shock Bill’s heart back into a normal rhythm.

Bill’s heart suddenly stopped due to ventricular fibrillation, an electrical malfunction that impeded blood flow and caused a dangerously irregular heart rhythm. That caused sudden cardiac arrest.

More than 350,000 Americans each year suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Unlike about 90 percent of those people, Bill survived mainly because of two factors: quick CPR and a fast emergency response.

American Heart Association guidelines for CPR recommend that anyone who sees an adult collapse should call 911 and provide chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Guidelines also recommend rescue breaths during CPR by people willing and able to deliver them.

Tamika Quinn

Tamika Quinn always struggled with her weight and developed high blood pressure while pregnant. But she didn’t take it seriously until she survived two strokes 10 days after her daughter was born.

On Feb. 22, 2002, Tamika woke up with an excruciating headache. Her regular doctor wasn’t available so she went to an urgent care clinic where she was given painkillers and medication for high blood pressure. The pain intensified, so Tamika went to the ER where she was diagnosed with a hemorrhagic stroke, followed by a second stroke three days later.

It took months for Tamika to recover her ability to walk and speak, and she continues to deal with long- and short-term memory loss and muscle control.

But after four years, Tamika went back to overeating and eating unhealthy foods, and not taking her blood pressure medication. After talking to her doctor about a migraine, Tamika learned her blood pressure had gone back up. “My doctor told me I was headed down the path to have another stroke,” she said. “I realized I needed to get my life together.”

Tamika is now an advocate for heart health, encouraging women to know their numbers and make lifestyle changes that can make a difference. “I know the value of my life, having almost lost it,” she said. “I want to go forward and live the best life I can.”

Beyond F.A.S.T. – Other Symptoms You Should Know

  1. Sudden NUMBNESS or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  2. Sudden CONFUSION, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  3. Sudden TROUBLE SEEING in one or both eyes
  4. Sudden TROUBLE WALKING, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  5. Sudden SEVERE HEADACHE with no known cause

If someone shows any of these symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1 or emergency medical services.

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs and symptoms of stroke. Learn more about F.A.S.T.

Heidi Steward

Heidi Stewart was told the fainting spells that began during her junior year of high school were a symptom of anxiety. But it was an undiagnosed inherited congenital heart defect that caused her to go into cardiac arrest midway through her senior year.

Heidi’s life was saved when school administrators performed CPR and shocked her heart back into rhythm using an AED donated by a family whose son wasn’t as lucky.

Heidi was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia/cardiomyopathy (ARVD/C), an inherited progressive disease of the heart muscle that causes abnormal heart rhythms. The condition accounts for up to one-fifth of sudden cardiac deaths in people under age 35. Although Heidi had a genetic heart condition, she must pay close attention to her other risk factors.

Now, the recent college graduate is sharing her story to encourage broader CPR training and AED access and for CPR/AED training to be part of high school graduation requirements. She also advocates for the importance of research and understanding the risks of heart disease in young people. “If this had happened a few years earlier, I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.

Many survivors feel scared, confused, or overwhelmed, and it’s no surprise. You experienced a life changing event. You probably received a lot of information and instructions from your doctor. Now, you’re trying to understand what happened and — more importantly — what you need to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Navigating the road to recovery isn’t easy. Questions, confusion, fear and uncertainty are normal and common. Get answers to your questions and learn more about what to expect.