Throughout my 31 years of volunteering for the American Heart Association I have worn many hats. But I can safely say some of my most memorable moments have come as an advocacy volunteer fighting for heart and stroke legislation. We live in a democracy and that means we get to shape the community that we live in. In many cases we get the society that we demand which is a tremendous responsibility.
For myself, I want to live in world with better health outcomes for everyone and a reduction in risks associated with heart disease and stroke. I realized one way to build that world was through the advocacy efforts of the American Heart Association. My passion for this type of volunteer work comes from the fact I have been a Registered Nurse and healthcare administrator for over 33 years and I have cared for many patients with a variety of cardiovascular health issues. I have seen the progress that we have made in the last 33 years and the work that still needs to be done.
There’s just something about advocacy that gets in your blood. I think it has to do with the ups and downs of the legislative process and fulfilling your civic duty to participate in the process. I always make a point of telling legislators, that they have as much power as a good physician when they pass good legislation that helps and improves the lives of their constituents. A thrill also comes from the fact that you can effect hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives with the passage of one bill and one governor’s signature.
I mentioned some memorable moments before and I’d like to list just a few of them now:
• In 2010 I Chaired the Smoke-Free San Antonio Coalition which successfully passed a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance. This came after nearly a decade long fight that included a weak ordinance being passed and reluctance on the part of the San Antonio City Council. But we never gave up and finally prevailed with a smoke-free victory in 2010.
• In 2011 I joined the AHA’s State Advocacy Committee in Texas and have been a frequent visitor to the Texas Capitol. Since that time we have successfully passed legislation related to CPR training in schools, Pulse-Ox testing for newborns, and critical public funding for heart attack and stroke systems of care.
• This year I have happily accepted the role of Chairing the State Advocacy Committee and look forward to even greater advocacy successes.
I have been fortunate to interact with a number of elected officials during this time including Julian Castro who was Mayor of San Antonio in 2010. He went on to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and now serves in the Presidential Cabinet as HUD Secretary. Two of the City Council members that voted YES are now serving in the Texas House of Representatives and are some of the AHA’s biggest supporters. A number of the State Representatives I have met with are now serving higher office in the Texas Senate and U.S. Congress.
I would encourage all advocates to build relationships with their elected officials, especially at the local level. You might be surprised about how easy it is to gain access and how willing your lawmakers are to hear from you. Your local officials are also the future statewide and federal lawmakers who will make public policy decisions for decades to come. I have found that when we reach a lawmaker and truly connect with them with our personal stories, we have champions for life.
If you haven’t already, I invite you to join You’re the Cure (www.yourethecure.org) and begin you journey of Advocating for Heart.