The American Heart Association is working toward improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent, and reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent, all by the year 2020. Policy change is essential for us to meet this bold goal – and our volunteers are at the heart of our efforts.
Each year, the American Heart Association invites a diverse group of volunteers to serve on the Alabama Advocacy Committee, which is the advisory board to volunteers and staff on state public advocacy issues. With the leadership of our subcommittee, we create a state public policy agenda that impacts heart disease and stroke risk factors and protects heart disease and stroke patients. We also conduct grassroots and lobbying activities to educate the public and policymakers about the need for policy change.
This year, we're pleased to announce the following individuals are members of this year's AHA Alabama Advocacy Committee.
Vickie Evans Fuller, who is serving as the State Advocacy Committee Chair, is an Independent Insurance Agent in Homewood, Alabama and President of the Birmingham Independent Insurance Agents. She been involved with the American Heart Association as a Guild member since 2005 and a member of the advocacy team since 2013. She initially began volunteering with the AHA to promote heart disease awareness because her daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. Since then, heart disease and stroke have impacted many of her family members, including her father at the age of 57. Vickie wants to see heart disease cease to be the nation's deadliest killer!
Dr. Mia Cowan is Founder and Medical Director of MiBella Wellness Center. A native of Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Cowan received both her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Master of Arts degree in Health Education and Promotion from the University of Alabama. She completed her Doctorate of Medicine and residency training in Obstetrics and Gynecology from the Medical College of Wisconsin. During residency, Dr. Cowan won several awards and was appointed Chief Resident of the OB/GYN residency program from 2005-2006. Dr. Cowan is a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She received her training as a Bariatric Medicine Specialist from the Center for Medical Weight Loss and has a Master of Business Administration degree from Auburn University.
Dr. Cowan provides exemplary care to adolescents and women of all ages for their gynecology care. She has special interests in hormonal balance for women and men, holistic medicine and minimally invasive surgery. In addition, she also provides comprehensive weight loss programs in her office. Her goal is to provide superior patient care to promote lifelong health and wellness. She is married to Kershun Thomas. They both attend the Rock City Church and are highly active in ministry. They both enjoy traveling and spending time with family and friends.
Dr. Cowan also serves on the Birmingham Metro Board and the Multicultural Leadership Committee for AHA.
Melanie Bridgeforth, MSW is the President and CEO of the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. Melanie is an experienced policy advocate for women and children and a fifth-generation Alabamian.
Melanie was previously executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children. She served in that role since 2013. Prior to that appointment, she was the Alabama government relations director with the American Heart Association. She has been involved in various national boards and was also involved with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.
Melanie, a University of Alabama graduate, led a transformation of the public policy platform at VOICES and doubled its operating budget during her tenure. She also was instrumental in attracting support for Alabama initiatives from regional and national funders.
She is a founding member of the board of Partnership for America’s Children, and she is on the national steering committee for the KIDS COUNT network, an advisory council of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Current and past board memberships include Preschool Partners, Project Horseshoe Farm and the Chemical Addictions Program. Melanie is a member of the Montgomery Rotary Club, the Junior League of Montgomery, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
Melanie’s enthusiasm for our mission is truly infectious, and her policy expertise is a huge bonus for the State Advocacy Committee.
Kayla Bass was born in New Brockton, Alabama. She received her Associate of Arts degree at Enterprise State Community College in 2011 and her B.S. degree in journalism from Faulkner University in 2013. Prior to joining the Alabama League of Municipalities, Kayla served as the Communications Specialist to Governor Robert Bentley, Press Secretary to Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill and Communications Director for VOICES for Alabama’s Children.
As the Public Affairs Associate for the Alabama League of Municipalities, Kayla works directly with the Deputy Director and Communications Director to promote League legislative positions through the development and implementation of grassroots campaigns and specific advocacy strategies as well as year-round communications efforts by the League. In addition, Kayla provides direct lobbying support when the Legislature is in session and manages ALM’s policy committee process. She also works closely with the Communications Director to disseminate critical information to ALM members throughout the year.
In her spare time Kayla enjoys traveling, reading and serving on the State Advocacy Committee for the American Heart Association.
Connie Dacus, Instructor of Pedagogy at Alabama State University, has served on the State Advocacy Committee for over 10 years. Connie is an advocate who enjoys bringing stroke and cardiovascular disease awareness to her students. Her motivation to improve her students’ lives is from watching the heartbreaking death of one of her elementary students at Carver Elementary.
Not only does Connie still have her students participate in the Heart 360 Program by checking their blood pressure every Wednesday, she also teaches her students why advocacy for health outcomes is important. Connie served as the Coordinator for the Jumping Hoops for Heart Coordinator for three years, implemented the Heart 360 program, and was instrumental in Alabama State University becoming a smoke-free campus.
Connie received her Master of Education degree in Health and Physical Education from Alabama State University and taught elementary school physical education in the Montgomery County School System until 2006 when she moved to her current position at Alabama State University.
Earlier this year Connie was selected as Alabama’s 2018-2019 College/University Physical Education Professional of the Year for her contributions to Alabama State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and numerous service organizations and her influence on the profession through mentoring students at Alabama State University.
Traci Gunter, is a heart attack survivor from Gadsden. On April 24, 2019, at the age of 23, her life changed in a drastic way. One minute she was dancing, listening to music on the way to work and the next she was being put in the back of her own car and rushed to the E.R. It turned out her LAD artery had torn (aka SCAD) resulting in a massive heart attack. Traci weighed 118 lbs and suffered from absolutely no heart problems before. Her heart attack was purely random and she is dedicated to building awareness and changing policy for cardiovascular disease. She is now a very active advocacy member with the American Heart Association and recruiter for You're the Cure network!