Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I went to Alaska in February. 

February is American Heart Month and The American Heart Association has a program called Go Red for Women. According to them heart disease is the number one killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. alone are affected by it and since 1984 more women than men have died each year from it. While 1 in 31 women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease. My mother died from congestive heart failure, so Go Red for Women is important to me.

Back to Alaska.

The reason I went there was to speak at the Go Red for Women events in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. First thing, it’s a long way to there from here, here being Orlando. 13 hours. And you don’t know how to pack. In Florida, it’s flip flops and tee shirts and shorts and Alaska is a bit of a mystery, all I knew was it was cold. So I got out all my old winter gear, hat, coats, long johns (you never know) and boots. My winter coat made me look like the Michelin Tire Man plus have you ever tried to buy gloves in Orlando?

I flew to Chicago, then to Seattle and then three more hours to Fairbanks and when I landed I came off the plane like an accordion. I’ve never been happier to be at the end of the line. Fairbanks was cold but a dry kinda cold. The high there one day was minus 11 but all of the people I saw were in open jackets and no gloves and there I was in a winter coat that was heavier than a saddlebag.

The night before the event they had a dinner on the stage and at first I wasn’t going to go. I was tired and I spent years at CBS eating room service in my hotel room so I would be fresh the next day, but these women were persistent. And I’m glad they were. They were wonderful and devoted to saving lives. I was so impressed to hear about the work they do in Alaska. In the words of Shakespeare, “a good time was had by all.” They have that dinner every year and it’s a form of letting hair down and bonding before the big day.

The next day was a bit of a blur because there were so many good things going on. They had free screenings for your blood pressure and different booths and speakers to help a person to be healthier and to lower their risk for stroke and heart disease. The speakers were doctors and nurses and PhD.s, all with one goal in mind, to help women.

And then it was my turn.

I spoke to a packed house, the Governor was there along with 700 people, most of them women. I told the story of my stroke, the rehab, my new reality, my journey and how stroke is always out there, lurking.  I spoke on how to not give up, how Hope is so important, and how you have to, have to, fight back. And how having a healthier lifestyle is very important.

There are two philosophies I live by, one you may have heard and one you may not have. One is Knowledge is Power. That’s an old saying but a good one. I always say the more you know the better decisions you can make. The more people know how to combat heart disease and stroke, the more equipped they are for that battle. And that’s where I come in. Being a stroke survivor myself helps me in that I don’t speak in ‘what ifs’ and ‘I wish I knew what you’ve been through.’ I have been down that stroke road and I speak from experience. That’s where the second philosophy comes in…I consider myself to be the Johnny Appleseed of stroke knowledge, I want survivors to know they are not alone and I want to help people to never have one in the first place. I want to spread vital information around. You know the saying, “if you can help one person…” Well, I want to help a lot of people.

When it was over the audience stood up for me as I stood up for them. I got a standing ovation. I left Fairbanks knowing that these women I had met were on the front line of the war against heart disease and in the words of Led Zeppelin they are building a Stairway to Heaven.

And who quotes Led Zeppelin?

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1 comment:

    Why you do, My Friend!
    Good read. Keep it up.