Guest Columnist

American Heart Association: Heart health can't take a pandemic break

The Gazette asked Eastern Iowa nonprofit leaders to write about the changing needs of our community in 2020

In the early stages of this pandemic, I don’t think any of us knew what we would face over the coming months. All of us have been changed and affected in some way over the course of the last year.

Our community’s nonprofit organizations are no different. At the American Heart Association, we mobilized our full organizational strength quickly to address the coronavirus. Our work is more important now than ever as we work relentlessly for a world of longer, healthier lives in a world where lives are threatened by a dangerous virus.

The American Heart Association had to quickly pivot to help combat the spread of the coronavirus and address the vulnerability of heart and stroke patients, caregivers, and health care professionals. Here’s how:

Focusing on healthy schools, families and worksites: When schools closed, we quickly provided resources to schools, youth and families. Our “Kick Cabin Fever to the Curb” tools provided healthy living resources and fun activities for teachers and parents working through the new home-school environment. We also held the first ever online STEM Goes Red event in Eastern Iowa, educating young women and men about possible careers in the STEM fields and connecting them to mentors and professionals working in those fields. Through our healthy living channels and worksite health relationships, we also provided resources on self-care, mental health and physical activity to individuals and companies faced with our new work-from-home reality.

Focusing on health care: For those working on the front lines of the pandemic, we quickly worked to provide job aids and training for oxygenation and ventilation of COVID-19 patients. We developed guidance to help health care rescuers treat victims of cardiac arrest who have COVID-19, giving victims the best possible chance for survival without compromising rescuers’ safety. The AHA supported its nearly 400,000 CPR Training Network instructors with training resources that incorporate social distancing.

Public health education: In the early stages of the pandemic, hospitals across the country saw a nearly 40 percent decline in heart attack and stroke patients reporting to their emergency rooms. We know that cardiac emergencies don’t stop for a pandemic, so the AHA worked with hospital partners across the country to educate the public about the continued importance of calling 9-1-1 for cardiac and stroke emergencies. The “Don’t Die of Doubt” campaign is credited with saving lives by helping people understand that the hospital still is the safest place to be if you or a loved one is experiencing a cardiac event.

Advancing science: As researchers desperately try to understand COVID-19 and find treatments, they’re racing against time and working through mountains of data. To help, the AHA launched a patient data registry to help professionals on the front lines better understand treatment patterns and variations. The registry collects data from more than 140 hospitals, and 35,000-plus lab reports — work that typically takes years. But we’ve been able to accelerate this work significantly during the pandemic.

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In addition, many mysteries remain about how COVID-19 affects the heart and brain. The AHA invested $2.5 million earlier this summer to fast-track scientific research to better understand this. The grants were awarded to teams at 12 institutions, with initial investigative reports expected in less than six to nine months for most of the studies.

As I look toward the future, I am alarmed by the potential future effects of COVID-19 and it’s potential to drastically change the health and well-being of people in our community for many years to come. The American Heart Association is working hard to create a better future and reduce these impacts. Your help is needed now, more than ever.

Those at greatest risk of COVID-19 are counting on us, and we’re counting on you. Your support is essential in the fight to save and improve lives, especially in the age of COVID-19. We hope this holiday season you considering supporting our many efforts with a donation at heart.org.

Ani Snyder is regional vice president for Eastern Iowa at the American Heart Association.

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