My name is Pamela Kaye Washington from Austin, Texas. My friends call me Pkaye. As someone who’s battled heart disease for more than two decades and volunteered with the American Heart Association to support policies like keeping school meals healthy and increasing funds for medical research, I know the real-world impact of public policy – for better and for worse.
My mom passed away in December of 1994 after a battle with an illness. She had a heart transplant a year prior, stemming from years of health issues dating back to my childhood. At one point, I remember, she had 80 pounds of fluid pulled from her in a procedure.
After doing some research, I realized that my mother had a genetic predisposition to heart disease which put me at an increased risk, and I immediately began a journey to learn as much as I could about heart disease – and to kick its butt.
I didn’t just want to survive, but to thrive despite my heart disease. I got involved with the American Heart Association and am currently chairman of the Grassroots Action Team in the AHA’s Southwest Affiliate. I was also selected to serve as an AHA Go Red for Women spokesperson.
Through my work at the AHA and as an advocate for women, I am dedicated to promoting awareness about genetic history. If my mother had known that she had a predisposition to heart problems – so much so that she would have to receive a heart transplant! – then I would have known to be screened for issues as well.
I am passionate about teaching people the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits. Again, had I known about my condition, my lifestyle and eating habits would have been completely different. In our house (and my daughter can attest!), sodium is the enemy and I am committed to keeping her, my husband and my entire family as healthy as I can when it comes to their hearts.
I hope that as we move into the future, health care remains a right – not a privilege – for all Americans, and that we can make medical breakthroughs through research to better understand how genetics plays a role in cardiovascular disease.
I am never going to stop being an advocate, because I know change is near.