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The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association: Making Strides and Celebrating Life, Science and Health

Recap of the 2017 Northern New Jersey Go Red For Women Luncheon and the 2017 20th Annual Affair of the Heart Ball

American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Go Red Ambassadors, 2017 Northern New Jersey Go Red For Women Luncheon, Photo courtesy of the American Heart Association

This past year, the American Heart Association had another successful year in their crusade to build healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. Two of the American Heart Associations premiere events, the annual Go Red For Women luncheon and the Affair of the Heart Ball recognizes and celebrates overall excellence in heart and stroke science, research, health care, treatment and community involvement; innovative and life-changing work that enables people from all walks of life to live healthier, stronger, longer lives.

Founded in 1924, the American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization, dedicated to helping to prevent, treat and defeat heart disease and stroke-the two leading causes of death in the world. The Association teams with millions of volunteers to fund cutting-edge research, fights for stronger public health policies, conducts lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocates to protect public health. The American Stroke Association is a division of the American Heart Association.

The Go Red for Women initiative is the American Heart Association’s national movement to end heart disease and stroke in women, promoting prevention through education and lifestyle changes and advocating for more research and swifter action for women’s heart health. The Go Red For Women movement was created by women, for women and is nationally sponsored by Macy’s, with additional support from cause supporters. This past year, hundreds of attendees wore red showing solidarity as apart of the GO RED movement, uniting to end heart disease and stroke at the 8th annual American Heart Association, Northern New Jersey Go Red for Women Luncheon.

The event started with a networking breakfast, then had an educational breakout session that included a healthy cooking demonstration by Laura Coti Garrett, MS, RDN, Chair of the 2017 Northern NJ Go Red for Women initiative and founder of Realtime Nutrition and also included an expert panel discussion on navigating the consumer side of health. Lisa Mateo, WPIX-11 Reporter, was the emcee for the luncheon. As the luncheon began, there was an interactive Hands Only CPR demonstration. The keynote speaker, Dr. Sarah L. Timmapuri, MD, a Cardiologist specializing in Cardiovascular and Metabolic diseases, spoke about her various professional and personal experiences. Dr. Timmapuri spoke about her role as a doctor caring for and advising others and how she ironically went through her own personal health issues but kept pushing and going. “I feel we need to share with each other especially women…it’s hard to talk about yourself, we always have a superwoman cape on, it’s a lot and we do it, it’s hard not to stop.” Dr. Timmapuri spoke about how women hide issues very well, not displaying what may really be going on behind the scenes. “We hide it very well and don’t show people how we really feel..men stop and say they need help but we don’t, we keep going.” Dr. Timmapuri discussed how all of her patients share the same theme as far as their own healthcare is concerned. “It’s universal, as doctors we talk to patients one on one about their well-being but it’s so hard to push the needle on this conversation…collectively with events like this, campaigns, television and radio exposure, we move the needle and it makes a difference.”

As the luncheon came to a close, over 12 Northern New Jersey American Heart Association female survivors of heart disease and stroke walked the runway in red in solidarity, celebrating their triumphant victories. Stacy Quinn, a passionate women’s health advocate and Go Red For Women ambassador, spoke about her health scare and how she was, unknowingly, on the verge of having a massive stroke. After experiencing symptoms for over a week such as a headache, nausea and dizziness, Stacy thought she was overworked and tired from the busyness of the holiday season. “I thought it was just a bad headache, then I was having a meeting with my boss and we were talking and I started slurring my speech and it happened twice.” Stacy decided to go to urgent care that night and was given migraine medication and told that the migraine would go away and to get rest but after 10 days she was still experiencing these symptoms and decided to go see a neurologist to get an MRI to get to the root of what was going on. Within hours of having the MRI, her doctor called her and told her to get to the nearest hospital as she was on the verge of having a severe stroke. “The hardest thing I went through was rationalizing what happened to me…I was in perfect health, was actually working out with a trainer, in great shape, knew my numbers, everything was good.” The medical team that treated Stacy discovered that she had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a mini-stroke, that occurred as a result of a damaged carotid artery. “It’s the left artery that connects your heart to your brain and pumps the blood, mine was blocked 90 percent. The carotid artery has three layers, mine broke and blocked the blood flow so it was like a really bad traffic jam. I was told I was lucky to be alive and lucky that I didn’t have a full blown stroke.”

Needless to say, Stacy’s life has been changed forever. She makes sure that she takes care of herself and makes her health a priority. “I have a schedule, I work out and sometimes I work out with a trainer and I always remember the doctor saying had I not been in good shape, overall good health and wasn’t working out, I may not be sitting here with you. It’s interesting, people think because you have a certain look or appearance that you are the picture of perfect health. I was lucky, I left the hospital on an aspirin and stent. I have more restrictions, I have to be really careful with my neck because my blockage was over 90 percent and has healed to 33 percent but it will never get better so I have to be careful of no intense activities and putting too much pressure on my neck. In the grand scope, I am lucky. That’s why it’s so important that I tell my story about recognizing stroke symptoms. This organization and all of these women who I have met throughout this journey that are here today are amazing, inspiring and really helped me get through this because my family was great and supportive but they didn’t understand what I was going through. I think with heart disease, stroke and women, you look at someone and they look fine, they look great like nothing is wrong, people feel that you’ll eventually get over it but I lived with the fact that I almost lost my life. How do you make sense of all of that?”

After hearing all of the amazing stories and experiences at this past year’s Go Red For Women Northern NJ Luncheon, it is even more clear that “our health is non-negotiable, we have the power to save our lives and the best force for women is women.” (The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement).

The Affair of the Heart Ball is a year-round campaign that raises funds supporting the American Heart Association’s mission of building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. The Heart Ball campaign celebrates survivors, researchers, and physicians across New Jersey that help fight the states number one cause of death. The year-round campaign is celebrated at the Affair of the Heart Ball, an elegant and sophisticated evening, attended by over 400 donors, executives, volunteers, local heart and stroke survivors, philanthropists, the medical community, and major New Jersey businesses. The 2017 20th Annual Affair of the Heart Ball, which had a roaring 20’s theme, was chaired by Joseph E. Parrillo, M.D., Chairman of the Heart & Vascular Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. “I was honored to be asked to chair the 2017 Affair of the Heart Ball,” Dr. Parrillo said. ” As a Cardiologist, Educator and Scientist, I know firsthand the impact the American Heart Association has made on heart health and the ongoing scientific research and efforts to fight against cardiovascular disease.”

The event began with a cocktail reception followed by dinner/program where the evening’s honorees were recognized. The keynote address was given by Magda Woszcyk, 2017 Heart and Stroke Survivor Ambassador. Magda is apart of the younger generation that has been impacted by heart disease. “Heart Disease continues to be the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of over 360,000 people a year. Although the face of Heart Disease may not be the typical athlete, it can affect the most active person. I was that picture of “perfect health” until my heart rate skyrocketed while I was at the gym. I was diagnosed with ARVD/C, Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia/Cardiomyopathy. It is when muscle tissue in the right ventricle dies and is replaced with scar tissue, causing abnormal heart rhythms. After diagnosis, I underwent a procedure, but little did I know, this was only the beginning of my battle. The Heart Ball funds life–saving research and educational programs to help our community and future generations live healthier lives. It’s truly an inspiring night celebrating survivors and the incredible physicians that save lives everyday. I was extremely honored to share my personal story. It’s humbling to be involved with the American Heart Association, supporting a great cause and increasing awareness,” said Woszcyk.

The 2017 Affair of the Heart Ball honorees were recognized for their outstanding achievements in the industry, in support of the American Heart Association’s mission, passion, work and life-changing and lifesaving achievements.

Margarita Camacho, MD, FACS, was honored with a Distinguished Service Award for her outstanding service at RWJ Barnabas Health. Dr. Camacho is the Surgical Director of Cardiac Transplant and Assist Devices for Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. The American Heart Association Harvey E. Nussbaum, MD, Distinguished Service Award annually honors an individual who has made a lifetime commitment to building healthier communities. The award is named in honor of the late Harvey E. Nussbaum, M.D., a renowned cardiologist from Saint Barnabas Medical Center. Dr. Camacho talked about her support of the American Heart Association’s various initiatives and mission. “One of the biggest initiatives of the American Heart Association for decades has been prevention. They want to increase awareness and have been doing so with women and heart disease as a prime example. Heart failure hasn’t been highlighted in the past as much as it is now. I would love to continue to be apart of that initiative of increasing the awareness of heart failure or any of the heart diseases that attack people suddenly. Look at the college students/athletes who lose their lives suddenly from arrhythmia. St. Barnabas has a program where high school and college students/athletes get pre-screened to find out if they have any pre-existing conditions. Heart disease affects 6 million people in the US and every year there are another 600,000 Americans that get diagnosed with heart failure. So it’s one of the main health issues and topics in the nation.” When asked about future research and medical advancements regarding cardiovascular health, Dr. Camacho was optimistic and hopeful. “We are thankfully moving towards less invasive medical procedures in the field of coronary disease. The American Heart Association has been wonderful in terms of being the catalyst to get the word out about cardiovascular and coronary disease and increase awareness. I have been involved with them for well over a decade and I have noticed how they really have achieved the goals that they have set out to achieve.”

David B. Landers, MD, FACC, FSCAI, Vice Chairman, Heart and Vascular Hospital, Hackensack University Medical Center, was honored as the 2017 Physician of the Year in Cardiology for his achievements and the positive impact he has made in Cardiology in the local community. The American Heart Association Physician of the Year Award is awarded to an individual nominated by peers or patients, who have made a positive impact on their patients’ lives and is dedicated to fighting heart disease. “I am very flattered and grateful to be honored by the American Heart Association. The American Heart Association has played a pivotal role in both cardiovascular research and social policy initiatives to treat cardiovascular disease. These efforts have provided enormous contributions to the improvements in cardiovascular health that people around the world have experienced over the many decades since the founding of the American Heart Association. There has been much accomplished, but there are many challenges yet to overcome. I will be happy to do my small part to help the American Heart Association in continued efforts to reduce and eliminate Cardiovascular Disease,” said Dr. Landers.

The American Heart Association also recognized a corporate honoree, Walgreens, for their excellence in the New Jersey healthcare community. Dominic DiPrimo, Regional Healthcare Director of Walgreens, was a practicing community pharmacist in Elmwood Park, NJ 20 years ago treating patients daily. Many of these patients were stroke victims, had high blood pressure, were recovering from open heart surgery and had cardiac issues. “Being a community pharmacist, we probably see these individuals more than their own physicians for any and everything and are a source for them for educational purposes,” said DiPrimo. “After being with Walgreens for two decades as a personal pharmacist, I elevated throughout the organization, becoming a dispensary pharmacist in a community setting, started becoming affiliated with The American Heart Association, attending walks, bringing teams from the store, supporting the cause, raising money and bringing my family. As I was going through the ranks of Walgreens, into management and different levels, I said why don’t we bring American Heart into Walgreens. So we started this campaign called “Life Is Why” in 2016, a scalable campaign that lasted for two weeks where we successfully raised over $116,000 and decided to do it again this year.” DiPrimo’s involvement with the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association initiatives increased after he and his wife had close family members on both sides of their families, be impacted by heart disease and stroke. “I told my wife that I am glad we are attending this evening and are able to contribute and donate. I always say whatever amount you can give makes a difference.”

Dr. Jawad F. Kirmani, MD, Director, JFK Stroke and Neurovascular Center Program Director: Vascular Neurology, Endovascular Surgical Neuroradiology and Neurocritical Care Fellowships, was honored as the 2017 Physician of the Year in Stroke and Neurovascular Care. Dr. Kirmani was led to become a neurologist because he was fascinated by how the brain works. “Learning about that muscle (the brain) was challenging, we could make artificial hearts but the brain was so challenging,” said Dr. Kirmani. Dr. Kirmani’s grandfather had a massive stroke while he was in medical school. “I looked up to him and when he passed, that was the catalyst that fueled my passion for neurology. I decided that if I go into that field, maybe I can make a difference and impact. The impact of stroke would be different for those I loved and others, maybe not in my lifetime but in the future.” The turning point for Dr. Kirmani came when his mentor’s mother passed away from a stroke over 20 years ago. “My mentor became focused on studying hemorrhagic strokes and my passion for learning more about strokes, what causes them and the impact that they have increased…over time, things have changed, you can treat hemorrhagic strokes better than you could 5 years ago, within 6 hrs of the stroke. There are so many trials going on right now to make a difference in a person’s life, to push forward the awareness and put it out there. The stroke causes more disability, more suffering, for the person and their family. Breast cancer and heart disease are on the top of the list and more media focus is being given and more charity dollars are being allocated towards them. But not so much on stroke even though people can survive stroke and the ramifications are more devastating than a lot of other diseases. There is so much awareness on heart disease, there is a lot of investment from pharmaceutical companies, media, other organizations investing time and resources yet, very few physicians/healthcare providers feel the urgency to tackle stroke, to try to treat, or even work on reversing the effects but it can be done, stroke is preventable, especially with so much emphasis on high blood pressure/hypertension. It can be prevented and if it happens, it can be reversed but it’s still uncommon for centers to have that level of expertise to combat stroke.”

Dr. Kirmani candidly expressed how people feel that there is a lot of risk regarding treating stroke, the after care and also touched upon the different dynamic for families of doctors/physicians and the extreme sacrifice that comes with the territory. Dr. Kirmani’s wife, Sara Najmaii confirmed that level of sacrifice but then talks about how she can’t complain because “someone’s father, wife, mother, child’s life is in danger. You know that person has children, family and a life that is cherished so when my husband comes home, he is fulfilled, and the recovery people have, it’s a blessing.”

Dr. Kirmani believes that the medical field would benefit from the concept of “disruptive leadership.” “Everyone talks about change and when certain people step up as effective leaders, they disrupt the status quo and comfortable space, taking people out of their comfort zone. Stroke is treated like a code heart attack, but the patient is given minimal treatment, especially if they don’t show signs of immediate recovery, then they are tucked away because you think there is nothing else to be done, out of sight out of mind but if you disrupt that, you change the trajectory.”

According to Dr. Kirmani, “sometimes it’s not the knowledge, not the gap in knowledge but the gap in behavior and application, it’s how people deal with the idea of change, they like the concept, have the knowledge but it isn’t enough without applied knowledge and the consequences of possibly taking a risk to save people’s lives. The more difficult emotionally the more it affects that part of the brain that you have to deal with. Health issues like stroke have huge consequences in the future. You never think it can happen to you, in your lifetime, in your circle, that YOUR blood pressure could ever be high. It happens to others, not me, that’s the prevalent attitude, there are stories more important. People have this perception that it can’t happen to them, especially if they look healthy. It’s beyond just disseminating knowledge, we need to acknowledge that stroke happens to real people, it can happen to anyone that has risk factors.”

Dr. Kirmani has a vision of the future of medicine/neurology to combat stroke. “Physicians like myself will be passing the baton on to other doctors who, God willing, will carry the torch, 5 to 10 years from now and beyond. The whole point is to make advancements and touch people. Brain is the last frontier, we can transplant a heart, liver, kidney, but we can’t transplant a brain. Brain is who we are, it’s your hard drive, it has to be saved, it requires a lot more attention, awareness, knowledge, emotional connection to stories, it needs to be saved, not replaced, as you can’t put other parts in the brain, the brain just needs to be saved. We need a lot more translational research, at a basic level and translating to clinical tactics and that type of research is lacking because of certain regulations, this part doesn’t talk to this part. If you don’t have systems that work together to make things better, you won’t have translational research. You can produce something in a test tube, but you can’t practice it in clinical medicine. A large part of the issues are systematic issues because different, important components and parts aren’t working together. We have tried to overcome it in our institution but there are many instances/ways of stroke care and systems of care that need to be implemented. For example, if a particular hospital doesn’t have the capability to take care of a hemorrhagic stroke patient, then that patient should be transferred immediately to a facility that can, but this whole entire system of care is complex. We have a whole chart that says how each one of these steps should happen but we need to come together as communities, as patients, families affected by stroke, as physicians, nurses, healthcare providers, to complete that circle because stroke is a completely different type of problem. We can’t replace a brain, you’ll never transplant a brain in the foreseeable future. My message for future generations and doctors to come is to try to develop collaborative models and systems of care where resources are shared, where knowledge is shared, and the benefit is distributed according to what you are capable of. That’s the true essence of taking care of neurological patients and brain patients. There are not that many Kessler Institute’s for Rehabilitation around, so don’t pretend to be a Kessler. Let’s share resources because this is a tough field, if something is not working, let’s change it. Stroke is a global issue, my vision is for global impact, attach your story to it so people can identify with it, touch it, feel it and internalize it.”

Dr. Kirmani expressed his support for the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, their mission, and what they are doing in the community. “They are trying to make a difference and spread the awareness, working for people to make things better. I support like minded missions to help people, it’s a great thing to be apart of something that is making a difference.”

The American Heart Association gauges the cardiovascular health of the nation by tracking seven key health factors and behaviors that increase risks for heart disease and stroke. These key factors are called, “Life’s Simple 7” and are measured to track progress toward the Association’s 2020 Impact Goal to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent, by the year 2020. Life’s Simple 7 are: not-smoking, physical activity, healthy diet, body weight, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.

The inspiring evening ended with a live auction followed by dancing and networking. The 2017 Affair of the Heart Ball was locally sponsored by RWJ Barnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, Novartis, ADP, St. Joseph’s Healthcare System, Aralez Pharmaceuticals, Merck & Co., Amarin Pharma Inc., Ogilvy Common Health Worldwide, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Abiomed.

The 2018 Go Red For Women Luncheon on April 12 and the 2018 New Jersey Affair of the Heart Ball on June 2 will continue to drive the American Heart Association’s mission of building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. This year’s Go Red Luncheon sponsors include Macy’s, CVS Health, Kessler Institute, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, RWJ Barnabas Health, etc. Rosa Coppolecchia, DO, MPH, FACP, FACPM, FACOEM, Director Global/ US Medical Affairs Cardio, Bayer Healthcare Consumer Care, is the 2018 Go Red for Women Luncheon Chair. Helena Foulkes, President of CVS Pharmacy and EVP of CVS Health, is the Inaugural National Chair of Go Red For Women. For more information on the 2018 Go Red Luncheon, log onto nnjgored.heart.org.

The 2017 Heart Ball campaign raised just over $71 million nationwide allowing the American Heart Association to fund life-saving research and prevention programs in communities across the country. Adrian Adams, Chief Executive Officer, Aralez Pharmaceuticals Inc. is the 2018 Heart Ball Chair. This year’s sponsors include Aralez Pharmaceuticals, Ogilvy Common Health Worldwide, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dragonfly, TD Bank, etc. For more information on the 2018 Heart Ball, log onto https://ahanewjersey.ejoinme.org/MyEvents/20172018NorthernNewJerseyHeartBall/tabid/881833/Default.aspx.

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