Jennifer is the current chair of the North Carolina Advocacy Coordinating Committee, the committee that helps steer advocacy for the state. She welcomes everyone, is passionate about her beliefs, and is a person who walks the walk – and talks the talk – about advocating to make a difference. Moments after her daughter was born, Jennifer and her husband Rob were told she had a heart defect known as a transposition of the great arteries. This means the two main arteries carrying blood away from the heart are reversed.
A first-time mother, Jennifer didn’t know exactly what to make of that, so she read the American Heart Association pamphlet given to her by the doctors. She learned Cassidy’s condition was, at the time, listed as “incompatible with life without surgery.” She spoke with nurses and medical students. She researched and reached out to anyone who could help her better understand the prognosis of Cassidy’s condition and the quality of life she may expect. During that journey, an advocate was born.
The family was living in Roanoke, Virginia at the time. Jennifer sought out the local AHA office. She knew the AHA was doing the life-saving research that was allowing children with a congenital heart defect to live longer lives – and she wanted to help. Her family began helping with Heart Walks in Virginia, and when they moved back to North Carolina in 2002 , she was introduced to You’re the Cure.
There is one capstone moment Jennifer recalls with an incredible amount of passion and reverence: when legislation was passed to require all newborns be screened for congenital heart defects using pulse oximetry in 2013. In what felt like just days after the policy was signed into law, Jennifer recalls receiving a phone call from Betsy Vetter, then NC Government Relations Director, with news that the life of a newborn had just been saved thanks to the required pulse oximetry screening. In that moment, Jennifer felt a surge of pride for having been a huge part of the grassroots effort behind lobbying for support and passage of the bill. “I felt like we had saved a life,” she shared. “This felt like our first victory!”
The impact of that effort, as well as all the advocacy she and her three children (Cassidy, Caroline, and Chase) have done, has had a lasting impact on the entire family - including helping to shape the future career goals of Cassidy and Caroline.
The top thing Jennifer hopes advocates take away from her story is simple but powerful: there is hope with heart. We can make huge strides working together to secure policy wins through You’re the Cure – victories that will go directly toward ensuring the hope of discoveries through AHA science-based research help people across the world live longer, healthier lives.