American Heart Association Northern NJ Board of Directors and Survivor Ambassadors, Photo Courtesy of Shotwell Productions

Earlier this spring, The American Heart Association Northern New Jersey, held their annual Go Red for Women luncheon, a great event focusing on the crusade to combat heart disease and stroke while celebrating and acknowledging warrior women who have been impacted by heart disease and stroke. These women share their stories, spread awareness and advocate for the cause while being encouraged to take charge of their heart health, so they can live longer, healthier 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 was created in 1997 as a division of the American Heart Association.

The Go Red for Women initiative is the American Heart Association’s signature women’s initiative and comprehensive national and global 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 CVS Health, with additional support from cause supporters. This year, hundreds of attendees wore red showing solidarity as participants of the GO RED movement, uniting to end heart disease and stroke at the 10th annual American Heart Association, Northern New Jersey Go Red for Women Luncheon.

Upon arrival, guests enjoyed the “Go Red Experience” room featuring Making Science Make Sense with Bayer and had a chance to make their own smoothie while riding the Fender Blender Smoothie bike with Horizon BCBS. There were CPR demonstrations presented by East Orange General Hospital, a tribute wall honoring loved ones, photo booth fun and much more! Afterwards, the heart-healthy luncheon and program began with the stories of local women affected personally by heart disease or stroke.  Heart and stroke ambassadors shared their stories just before hearing from Open Your Heart Speaker and Stroke Survivor, Patty Petrula.  The 2019 Northern NJ Go Red for Women luncheon was chaired by Stacy Quinn, Stroke Survivor Ambassador and was sponsored nationally by CVS Health and locally by RWJ Barnabas Health, Bayer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, News12 NJ, TAPinto West Orange, and NJ Biz. Representatives from various local institutions and organizations, such as Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, attended the annual Go Red Luncheon in support of the phenomenal work that The American Heart Association is doing in the community to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke.

Kessler Institute has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top rehabilitation hospitals in the nation – and the only center of its kind in New Jersey. This marks the 26th consecutive year that Kessler has been named to the prestigious “America’s Best Hospitals” list.

“Kessler Institute has long been a partner of the American Heart Association and, in particular, the Go Red for Women initiative. We proudly support the AHA’s awareness, prevention and research activities, and equally important for survivors and their families, we provide an unparalleled level of stroke rehabilitation and cardiac recovery services at our hospitals and outpatient centers. Inspired by the remarkable stories we hear at the annual luncheon, we continue to do all we can to fight the fight against cardiovascular disease and improve the lives of those women – and men – dealing with it,” Sue Kida, President, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

The program featured:

  • Stacy Quinn, Bayer, Chair & Stroke Survivor Ambassador, NNJ Go Red for Women Luncheon, American Heart Association
  • Patty Petrula, KPMG, Keynote Speaker & Stroke Survivor Ambassador, American Heart Association
  • Jacqueline Schwanwede, MD, Consultants in Cardiology, NNJ Board President, American Heart Association
  • Louis LaSalle, RWJ Barnabas Health, NNJ Board of Directors & Circle of Red Chair, American Heart Association
  • Heart and Stroke Survivor Ambassadors, American Heart Association

While nearly 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes, cardiovascular diseases continue to be the leading cause of death in women, claiming the lives of one in three women. Each year more women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. It’s time to change this fact. It’s time to be demanding when it comes to women’s heart health and ask others to do the same. There are a few ways that people can take control of their health and lower heart disease risk. Regular physical activity and following plant-based diets, a meal plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, are shown to protect the heart.

“Having these heart issues forces me to look at my health more and take care of myself. Also, being involved with the American Heart Association allows me to connect with others who understand what this crusade is all about while telling my story and learning about other individual stories as well.” Lisa Vecchione, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Survivor Ambassador. According to Vecchione, HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) is a genetic condition in which the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick (hypertrophied). The thickened heart muscle can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. In most cases, HCM affects over 1 in 500 people in the general population, possibly increasing to up to 1 in 200 to 300 as studies on this data are still in process. “Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t know they have this condition, and can go into cardiac arrest and suddenly pass. The two usually go hand in hand so having a pacemaker and defibrillator is actually like having a little angel on my shoulder, giving me a better chance of survival,” says Vecchione.

In addition to heart disease, hypertension has also been recently making headlines. Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide and a leading cause of serious disability — and high blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, according to the American Stroke Association.

In March 2019, 52-year-old actor Luke Perry died of a massive stroke, and an American Heart Association report in January found that nearly half of all Americans — 121 million adults — had some form of heart disease, largely due to changes in blood pressure guidelines. Luke Perry’s death, due to an ischemic cerebrovascular accident, is evidence that the disease can affect people of any age.

“Although stroke often affects older individuals, it is not only a disease of the elderly,” says Mitchell S. V. Elkind, chair of the American Stroke Association Advisory Committee. “There is evidence that stroke rates among young people are increasing in the United States and this requires additional research.” A 2017 report by the American Academy of Neurology found that 15% of all ischemic strokes happen to young adults and adolescents. But a lack of research, awareness and frequency makes diagnosing the symptoms early on a challenge. Ischemic strokes account for 87% of all stroke cases. They occur when a blood vessel becomes blocked by fatty deposits and blood has trouble passing through to the brain. Other types of strokes include thrombotic ischemic stroke — triggered by a blocked vessel — and a hemorrhagic stroke, caused by weakened blood vessels that rupture and bleed into the brain. Thus, it’s very important to know stroke risk factors and symptoms.

High blood pressure damages blood vessels and can lead to organ damage such as kidney and heart failure, as well as heart attacks and stroke. It’s hard to detect because it does not always cause symptoms, hence why many doctors call the disease a silent killer. According to the American Heart Association, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, family history, chronic heart disease and poor diet put people at greater risk for stroke. Avoiding diets with high calories, lots of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium can reduce the risk, as can getting 150 minutes of activity each week.

Why high blood pressure is a ‘silent killer’:

Filmmaker John Singleton’s recent death is a reminder that many African American men struggle with a silent killer-hypertension. The Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director and father of seven, suffered from the disease, according to his family. In April 2019, he suffered a massive stroke, an early and frighteningly common occurrence in young black men.

African American men are at the greatest risk of having a stroke in the U.S. and are more likely to have a stroke at a younger age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

John Singleton’s family urges black men to get their blood pressure checked. His death is a reminder that black men are hit hardest by high blood pressure, a silent killer that often comes without symptoms and warnings. Like many African Americans, Singleton quietly struggled with hypertension. More than 40 percent of African American men and women have high blood pressure, which also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe. Singleton’s family wants to “share the message with all to please recognize the symptoms by going to,” a representative said.

“The prevalence of high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) in African Americans in the U.S. is among the highest in the world. Almost 40 percent of African American men and women have high blood pressure. For African Americans, high blood pressure also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe,” says Dr. Carrie G. Lenneman, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Not only does high blood pressure seem to hit black men hardest, but it underscores the difficulty in controlling blood pressure even for those who have access to top doctors,” says Lenneman.

Researchers have also found that there may be a gene that makes African Americans more salt sensitive. In people who have this gene, as little as one extra gram — half a teaspoon of salt — could raise blood pressure as much as 5 mm Hg.

Dr. Raegan Durant, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, also notes that having no symptoms means that the damage is often done without warning. “Lifestyle modification is often an untapped approach to lowering blood pressure in addition to medications,” says Durant. “Of course, taking medications regularly is important, but regular monitoring of blood pressures at home, adopting a low-sodium, vegetable-rich diet, and pursuing physical activity multiple times weekly can also be helpful in lowering blood pressures.” Furthermore, “not all patients have the same optimal targets, but it’s important to know blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol numbers,” Lenneman added.

“Once diagnosed with hypertension, African Americans are just as aware of their disease and just as likely to be treated compared to Caucasians in the U.S. Yet, African Americans receiving treatment for hypertension are often much less likely to bring their blood pressure under control,” Durant said.

“By the time individuals with hypertension begin having symptoms, it means that the cumulative effects of elevated blood pressures, often over many years, have begun to cause damage to body organs such as the eyes, brain or kidneys.”

Only a blood pressure reading by a professional can diagnose the condition.

  • Blood pressure of 120/80 or above is considered elevated 
  • 130/80 to 139/89 is considered stage 1 hypertension
  • Anything 140/90 or above is considered stage 2 hypertension

If blood pressure reaches 180/120 or higher — and either number in the blood pressure reading counts — people are in hypertensive crisis, with need for immediate treatment or hospitalization.

It is important to know your blood pressure numbers and the new recommendations of goal blood pressures.

Furthermore, The American Heart Association recommends using the acronym B.E.F.A.S.T. to remember how to catch the warning signs of a stroke:

Balance (look for loss of balance, stumbling, etc.)

Eyes (vision loss, blurriness, etc.)

Face is drooping.

Arms are weak.

Speech difficulty.

Time to call 911.

B.E.F.A.S.T. is how we come together to end stroke ® Learn the stroke warnings signs. Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke. It could happen on your street, in your workplace, at a store where you shop — anywhere. Your readiness to spot the stroke warning signs and call 911 could save a life or make the difference between a full recovery and long-term disability. That’s why it’s so important to learn the stroke warning signs and urge everyone you know to do the same. The faster stroke is treated, the more likely the patient is to recover.

Louis LaSalle, RWJ Barnabas Health, NNJ Board of Directors & Circle of Red Chair, American Heart Association, is all too familiar with the impact and ramifications of stroke on a family and how life altering experiences can oftentimes propel you into your purpose and destiny. His father had a fatal stroke many years ago, leaving behind a wife and four children, ages 10, 7, 4 (Louis) and 17 months. “My mother was this little lady, strong and courageous who said, we’re going to be ok.”

Ultimately, Louis’ journey the past 56 years changed the course of his life as well as the trajectory of his entire family after experiencing such a tragedy.  This experience compelled him to get involved in the medical industry, in some capacity. “I’ve had friends for 50-60 years who were doctors. I kept thinking about the perception, about what do I know, I’m not a doctor. However, there were other ways to be involved and advocate for the cause and it worked. I didn’t have to go to medical school yet I was able to utilize my services in other capacities, based on my personal experiences.” Louis discussed how it’s important to rely on medical specialists to do what they have to do but encourages everyone to educate themselves about their own health and recognize their symptoms and know what has to be done.  “Preventative care is important as well, women and men should carry two up to date aspirins on them at all times. If something happens, you feel strange and have any symptoms that you recognize, such as headache, arm numbness, indigestion, a change in complexion, pop the aspirin as this allows the blood to thin so that it doesn’t clot and prevents heart attack and stroke and gives someone time to get to you or get you to someone to help take care of you…women are dying more than men as a result of heart disease, stroke and hypertension. They get a little indigestion, take some aspirin and dismiss their symptoms and say, I’ll be ok, without proper follow up and getting to the root of what’s really going on with them and their bodies. We have to take care of our women like we do men because symptoms exhibit themselves differently in women and we better recognize that, so we went on a campaign doing just that.”

When asked about the impact of The American Heart Association/The American Stroke Association, Louis was so excited to see the changes that have occurred. “The organization is so important to the community. There is an awareness now in all hospitals, in our emergency rooms and RER (Rape Emergency Rooms). Our hospitals are equipped and have all of the information that the American Heart Association talks about and is acknowledging that this is a serious situation. We have 11 acute care hospitals in the system and are looking to bring more into the network which will be great. When things happen, that you may or may not be prepared for, you want and have to go to the best hospitals and facilities to receive the best care.”

I personally reflected on my caregiving experiences with my father in and out of various hospitals and facilities over a five year period as a result of him having a massive stroke due to hypertension and diabetes. Although it’s easy to be critical, nothing is perfect and you won’t always agree from the perspective of doctors and families but ultimately, it’s about collectively coming to a common ground on what’s best for your loved one.

“Many people don’t know about heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, which cause cardiovascular issues, strokes, heart attacks and a multitude of other health ailments. Everybody needs good, affordable health care, no prejudices or judgement and should have a choice as to what type of insurance and coverage they want to have for themselves and their family. Medicare isn’t the answer for everything. Again, you should have a choice and should be able to effectively make it. When they tell you that you have to go see Dr. Jones and you don’t particularly like Dr. Jones because in your opinion, he is not a good doctor, you should be able to make another choice.  It limits people, why would you give an organization or anyone for that matter, the power of life and death. Everyone has to be insured in some way in this country and we can do that properly,” says Louis.

New Jersey American Heart Association Staff, Photo Courtesy of Shotwell Productions

Heart Disease, Stroke and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors:

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. They call these “Life’s Simple 7” and measure them to track progress toward their 2020 Impact Goal: to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% and reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20%, by the year 2020. Life’s Simple 7 are: not-smoking, physical activity, healthy diet, monitoring body weight, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Here are some key facts related to these factors: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2019 At-A-Glance. This document contains a few key statistics about heart disease, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases and their risk factors, in addition to commonly cited statistics about the American Heart Association’s research program. This At-A-Glance document is based on the Association’s 2019 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update, which is compiled annually by the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health and other government sources. The years cited are the most recent available for each statistical category and key words included in the article were cardiovascular diseases, epidemiology, risk factors, statistics and stroke.

The American Heart Association and The American Stroke Association are passionate about raising awareness and staying in the fight to combat heart disease and stroke. This was further supported by the many people who attended the Go Red Luncheon who have been impacted by heart disease and stroke. These deep-rooted health issues run deep for many. Tiara Gibbs, a mother of a 3-year-old little girl who was born with a hole in her heart, has had a pacemaker herself for 10 years. Tiara’s father also had heart defects, proving that the generational pattern of heart disease is real and needs to be completely broken and eradicated.

Stacy Quinn, Bayer, Chair & Stroke Survivor Ambassador, NNJ Go Red For Women Luncheon, American Heart Association, talked about how she prepared for the luncheon and crusade this year. “We changed the program a little and tried to make it about the survivors and people who benefit from the research and are here today because of all the supporters and generous donors in the room. We also incorporated the storytelling aspect because these ladies are why we do this. It is absolutely amazing how they have lived through some of the worst moments of their lives and have come through trailblazing, even running multiple marathons! So these women are really an inspiration for me and others. The luncheon is important because not only do we need to raise money for research and awareness but it’s also a way to assemble all of the survivors together because no one really knows what we’ve been through and I feel like having an opportunity for all of us to connect is just so important. Initially, I didn’t know if I wanted to tell my own story and talk about what I went through having a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a mini-stroke, that occurred as a result of a damaged carotid artery. However, I met all of these amazing women and realized, this is why I went through this experience and why this happened to me, I am meant to help lead this charge to help save more women and work with these lovely ladies. They inspire me all the time. Someone asked me the other day, “do you wish you didn’t have your stroke, do you wish it didn’t happen?” I said absolutely not. I would never want to go back because I never would have met these ladies and this entire experience has changed my entire life for the better.”

As far as the future vision of the American Heart Association, Stacy believes that it is crucial to continue the mission of raising more awareness about stroke and heart disease. “There was recently a study that came out stating that 1/3 of Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease and 80% of these are preventable so I really think the awareness and educating people on how to prevent something from happening is really important particularly because it’s happening more and more often and it’s affecting a lot more younger people because of lifestyle choices, lack of exercise, not knowing your blood pressure, etc. Staying in tune with your body and knowing the symptoms when something isn’t right is extremely important. In my case, I had symptoms for days and I always say, we all have to be the CEO of our own health. I was misdiagnosed twice and I should have fought that more because I knew something wasn’t right. You always tend to say, the doctors know best…however, we all have to ask questions about our OWN health and be empowered to do the things and take the necessary steps and precautions, to prevent something like this from happening.” 

The American Heart Association does not conduct research but uses donations to fund research projects. Research applications are carefully weighed and selected by teams of scientists and healthcare professionals who volunteer for the Association. The American Heart Association has funded 13 Nobel Prize winners and several important medical breakthroughs, including techniques and standards for CPR, the first artificial heart valve, implantable pacemakers, cholesterol inhibitors, microsurgery and drug-coated stents. The American Heart Association funds more research into cardiovascular diseases and stroke than any other private not-for-profit organization except for the federal government and has funded more than $4.3 billion in research since 1949. 

Patty Petrula, KPMG, Keynote Speaker and Stroke Survivor Ambassador, American Heart Association shared her powerful and touching story of her triumphant recovery after suffering from a ruptured brain aneurysm and stroke after training for her first triathlon. “It’s important to share my story and get the news out because it can help somebody.” Prior to this experience, Patty wasn’t having any serious health issues. “The only issue I had was high blood pressure but I was already on medication for it and as I was training for this triathlon, I was a little lax, thinking that I’m good, I’m healthy, I’m training for a race. In my mind, I felt good, I don’t need to take my medicine, some days I would take it and some days I wouldn’t and I think that happens to a lot of people and I took my health into my own hands so to speak and just got careless. That particular day in the gym, no matter what I was doing, even when I was doing the right things, my blood pressure just sky-rocketed and caused the chain of events that occurred. I’m just so grateful that I was at this gym where they were able to help me so quickly. Still to this day, I don’t know why I didn’t go in the morning like I normally would but I always believe that nothing happens by chance and there is a reason. I’m still here to talk about it and raise awareness.”

Patty shared her thoughts on the impact of the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association. “It’s an amazing organization and gives you a platform and the ability to share with all of these people. I have met such incredible people and I don’t know where else I’d be able to share my story. I feel like the past couple of years since I have met everyone and heard others stories, I’ve become more educated and knowledgeable and that is just so important. I’m so happy that I can help educate others as well. It’s about paying it forward and I feel great. As much as I can I want to help because I feel like I have a purpose.”

For more information on the 2019 Go Red Luncheon, The American Heart Association and The American Stroke Association, log onto

Article includes quotes, citations and content courtesy of:

The American Heart Association/The American Stroke Association

NBC, Shamard Charles, M.D. article for Men’s Health segment entitled, “John Singleton’s family urges black men to get their blood pressure checked”

CNN, Christina Maxouris article entitled, “Was Luke Perry too young for a stroke? No, they can happen at any age”


  • Madinah N. James

    International Media Connoisseur: Writer, Correspondent, TV/Film Producer, Author, Event Coordinator and Non-Profit Organization Strategist

    Madinah N. James is a professional “media connoisseur” with an extensive background in television, media and public relations. Madinah has produced at networks such as CNN and MSNBC and has written for various publications. Madinah started her career in television as a production assistant for “Good Day New York” on WNYW-FOX-5. After building an impressive resume from networks such as FX Cable, Turner Broadcasting and Court TV, she started working as a production coordinator on the CNN Financial News show, “Moneyline with Lou Dobbs”. During this time, the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred so it was an extremely busy and eventful time in the news industry. Madinah coordinated with field reporters and producers to obtain footage in line with proper video content and story idea synchrony as well as aligned with affiliates and international bureaus to create newsworthy stories. Ultimately, Madinah obtained a position segment producing at MSNBC during the Iraq war, researching and writing newsworthy segments and producing quality video for air. Being an actual part of news history during these events fueled the fire in Madinah to want to report on a variety of groundbreaking, global news stories. “I have loved television and media since I was a young child. I've always had a photographic memory of various entertainers, television shows, movies, historical events, etc. Always a creative person, English was my favorite subject in school and I love writing and expressing myself." It just seems like a natural progression that I have forged a career in media.” After taking a break from the news world, Madinah cultivated her creativity in other projects through media consulting, event coordinating and booking celebrities and notable real estate speakers on a national and international level, for various organizations, including The Learning Annex. Currently, Madinah has a media consulting company, MNJ Consulting Corporation, a company that provides an array of creative consulting services based around her extensive, diverse professional media background. Madinah has also embarked upon a new, unexpected chapter in her life journey. She has learned how to use her creativity and communications background to strike a balance between various aspects of her personal and professional life. On a personal note, Madinah’s father had a massive stroke in March 2011, igniting a passion for health and wellness that runs deep. She started a non-profit organization, The Robert Hill Foundation, in his name, (, to be a platform for stroke advocacy, prevention and create global initiatives to promote overall health and wellness. Madinah is also currently an ambassador and spokesperson for The American Heart Association, The American Stroke Association, The Power To End Stroke campaign and The You're The Cure movement. By having a background in media, Madinah understands the importance of using media as a tool and a platform to get vital messages out to the public and impact the masses.