American Heart Association: Making an Impact in Heart Health

Story by Patti Boccassini-Hill.

The month of February is known as the “month of love.” It’s also famous for Phil the groundhog’s weather prediction, Valentine’s Day, Black History Month, and every four years we tag on an extra day to the month. 

It is also American Heart Month.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has a rich history that dates to 1924 when a group of six cardiologists founded it as the Association for the Prevention and Relief of Heart Disease. These physicians were concerned about the lack of research and information regarding heart diseases.

Initially, their focus was on sharing information among professionals and educating the public about heart health. Over time, they expanded their efforts to include fundraising for research and advocating for legislative policies that promote heart health.

In the 1940s, the AHA initiated the creation of community programs to educate people about heart disease and encourage healthier lifestyles. They began to fund research grants and studies to better understand heart diseases and develop effective treatments.

The AHA became more widely recognized in the 1950s due to their involvement in groundbreaking research that linked smoking to heart disease. They also began promoting CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) training, which has since become a crucial life-saving skill taught worldwide.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, the association continued to expand its reach and impact. They have been instrumental in creating guidelines for the treatment and prevention of heart-related conditions, supporting research advancements, and advocating for public policies that promote heart health.

The AHA is divided into five regions across the country, with each region having local divisions, governed by a board of directors. The boards are a diverse balance of men and women, healthcare experts, as well as business and community leaders. 

(l-r) South Central PA Board members Alicia Luciani and Patti Hill; volunteer Lynne Ritter; and Marsha Jackson, executive director, wear red in support of Go Red for Women.

Go Red for Women 

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) continues to be the No. 1 killer of women – claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. 

Celebrating 20 years of raising awareness in 2024, Go Red for Women is the AHA’s signature women’s initiative, dedicated to educating and empowering women to take action to protect themselves from the threat of cardiovascular disease and helping all women reduce their risk by removing the barriers they face to better health and well-being.

Today, Go Red for Women continues to have a profound impact on women’s health through research, mental well-being, and maternal health.

Additional programs such as Woman of Impact, Capital Region Heart Walk, Field Day, Heart of the Capital Region & Heart Ball, and Leaders of Impact are in full swing around the year. These programs assist in fundraising efforts which provide critical funds for community initiatives, education, and research. Woman of Impact is an initiative where local women are nominated to participate in a nine-week blind competition raising funds and awareness for the Go Red for Women movement. These incredible women build teams and will have a true impact on the Capital Region from February 2nd – April 5th. The AHA staff is always willing and able to help in the volunteers’ endeavors. 

The staff members also will provide CPR demonstrations, counsel on wellness programs, and more to companies in our region. Becoming a volunteer is an easy process.  The AHA would be glad to have you and they would be glad to hear from you. 

You can show support as well on February 2 by wearing red. National Wear Red Day is a day when many people wear red to show their support for the awareness of heart disease.

This year, in its 100th anniversary year, the American Heart Association remains a leading force focusing on cardiovascular health, uniting more than 35 million volunteers and supporters and more than 2,900 employees. Bold moves, and dedicated researchers and volunteers, have resulted in significant medical advancements over 100 years: the first artificial heart valve, implantable pacemakers, cholesterol-lowering medications, techniques for CPR and much more. Working as a global force, the Association is transforming the way the world understands, treats, and prevents cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

More than $5.7 billion invested in cardiovascular medical research makes the American Heart Association the leading nonprofit funding heart and stroke research – second only to the U.S. government. The Association has funded over 49,000 projects, leading to significant breakthroughs in cardiovascular and stroke discovery, translation, and clinical application.

Although the Association is focused on its future, it is important to learn from and understand the places it has been to inform the way ahead. Throughout the last century, the American Heart Association has moved health and well-being forward in important and critical ways by helping lower the nation’s blood pressure, increasing CPR certification, combating nutrition insecurity, and fighting tobacco use. These are only the beginning of the steps that have been taken to make heart disease and stroke stories of the past and not of the future.

Kathryn Santiago and her son, Isaiah, a sudden cardiac arrest survivor take part in the Capital Region Heart Walk

“Moving into its next century, the American Heart Association will continue to be a bold force in creating a world of equitable health. Though scientific research has improved lives significantly, these gains have not been experienced equitably among Black, Hispanic, Native American, Native Hawaiian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and LGBTQ + people,” states Larissa Bedrick, marketing communications director for AHA’s Central PA region.

She continues, “This is also the case in historically under-resourced communities all over the country. The Association pledges to work relentlessly to eliminate heart disease and stroke, optimize brain health and ensure equitable health in every community across the country. Through its local initiatives, the American Heart Association strives to create a world that provides more tomorrows with our loved ones by identifying what is needed in individual communities and addressing critical concerns to equitably improve the lives of every person in every community.” 

The AHA’s efforts span education, research, advocacy, and community programs, all aimed at reducing the impact of cardiovascular diseases and improving the overall health of individuals and communities.

Historical Timeline of the American Heart Association