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Mugtalk Mondays: Dr. Kiersten Espaillat

On a typical weekend, you may find Dr. Kiersten Espaillat kayaking near her home in Nashville or gardening with her family.  The married mother of three (ranging from 3-20 years old) and grandmother of a five-month-old, loves nothing more than spending time outdoors.  When inside, Dr. Espaillat believes in family meals.  Often, the Espaillats will cook together and enjoy the meal as a family.

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The love Dr. Espaillat has for her family played a role in her interest in stroke care and a career in the healthcare field.  Before she was born, her grandfather suffered many strokes, and had one of the first procedures ever done to clean the blockages out of the blood vessels in his heart.  Unfortunately, shortly after his procedure, he had a massive stroke and became wheelchair bound.  Seeing what her grandfather experienced shaped who she is today and impacted her career path.

Dr. Espaillat graduated received her undergraduate and Master’s in Nursing from Vanderbilt University and a Doctorate in Nursing from University of Tennessee Health Science Center.  For the past five years, she has worked in research, quality monitoring and education for stroke care.  Vanderbilt is a Comprehensive Stroke Center and has received many awards from the American Heart Association because of its commitment to quality stroke care.  Through her role, she has conducted teaching sessions on primary prevention for stroke for over 600 individuals.  She also manages the Brain Aneurysm Support Group and the Caregiver Support Group, which she greatly enjoys.

“Since the era of tPA, we actually have a chance to save people.  And not just keep them alive but bring them back to their lives so they can go and grow a garden or work or take care of their family. Just getting that message out there has been really rewarding. And not just to the community but also to medical providers.”

Seeing the work Dr. Espaillat was doing at the community level, Denise Costanza, the American Heart Association’s Tennessee Government Relations Director, reached out to her to become a part of the State Advocacy Committee.  Denise realized Dr. Espaillat’s work at the local level translated into policies being advocated for at the state level. Even with everything on her plate, Dr. Espaillat dove right in and became an active advocate for the Association!

Dr. Espaillat sees the importance of how state-level policies impact her work.  Not just policies directed at stroke centers.  “If we only focus on the very immediate and the very local, we’ll only be chasing one problem after another.  If we can target health policies that can make broad changes that have the downstream effect of not creating some of the issues that we see, we will be more successful.”

One example she gave?  PE in schools.  Physically active and educated kids can translate into physically active adults, and physical activity may influence stroke recovery.  According to Dr. Espaillat, the more stroke patients move, the more they recover.

Another bonus of working on state-level policies?  Dr. Espaillat says she enjoys being able to affect the population’s health, while her career lets her focus on individual’s health.

Working on policy change has many ups and downs.  Things don’t necessarily go your way.  However, Dr. Espaillat is very excited about the policies the Tennessee Legislature has passed as it relates to stroke.  Not only is she thrilled with what has happened over the last few years (and is hopeful about is what is coming next year), she has also enjoyed seeing the conversations that have started because of this work.  Conversations are now taking place between legislators and the healthcare community about the best ways to treat strokes from a state perspective.

Advice for newcomers into advocating for heart-healthy policies?  Dr. Espaillat says “Don’t be scared!  Local advocacy leaders are wonderful about getting you involved and getting you the information you need.  The toughest part is finding parking!  And if you can do that, you can advocate for heart-healthy policies.”  (We believe that’s true, too! Your American Heart Association Advocacy team is here to guide anyone interested in becoming an advocate through the process and getting them connected!)

It’s a gift to have Dr. Espaillat share her experiences in stroke prevention, treatment and care with the American Heart Association and Tennessee lawmakers.  There is no doubt that Dr. Espaillat’s stories help shape decisions on policies that are passed and impact millions of people. 

YOU’RE THE CURE, Dr. Kiersten Espaillat.

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