January 21, 2020

Featured Image = Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association Helps Our Region Stay Healthy

Keith Parwulski (The Summit Federal Credit Union) and Lisa Neff (Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association) at 2019's Buffalo Wine and Chocolate Festival.

Michelle Mason is the Director of Development for the Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association (AHA), beneficiary of our Buffalo Wine and Chocolate Festival to be held January 25, 2020. We asked her to tell us about the AHA’s local impact.

Grandma

Michelle Mason’s grandmother.

I remember the day just like any other. I was a little girl, maybe 8 years old, and we were told that my grandmother had suffered a massive heart attack. The prognosis wasn’t positive, and we were faced with the fact that she was going to die. It wasn’t a feeling I was used to – the extreme disbelief, and nausea that came along with it. I was a little girl! The last thing I should be dealing with was the death of my grandmother; a woman who played one of the most important roles in my life.

She was the matriarch of our family; therefore, I learned a lot from her. I learned how to be powerful. I learned how to be the key to my own success in life. I even learned how to cook, how to garden and how to ride horses. The fact that I might lose this woman, the woman who created our family, was dumbfounding. She was only in her 40s.

We drove two hours to the hospital where she was being cared for. She was scheduled for a quadruple bypass surgery that day. The hours dragged, and the anxiety on my mother’s face was distressing. But then, the doctor came out and said the surgery had gone well, and that we could see my grandmother in a couple of hours. We were elated.

But the hard part had just begun. My family was now faced with the quintessential discovery that we had a genetic risk factor for heart disease. Life would be different for us as we came to terms with the new idea that we were a heart family.

Michelle Mason (Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association).

Several years later, I began working at the American Heart Association and came face-to-face with other heart families. I met families who had powerful stories of survival, kids with testimonials of adversity, and some individuals whose grief was still readily seen on their faces.

One of the youngest survivors I met was one week old. The oldest was 101! This is when I began to dig and discovered that one of the doctors who worked on my grandmother was funded by the American Heart Association. The mission to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives, suddenly became much more than a mission, but a passion.

In my job, I get asked daily “where does the money go?” The money goes to people like the doctor who saved my grandmother’s life. The money goes to support kids like Evie Baumler, a heart warrior from Grand Island who was born with a congenital heart defect. Because of the research the American Heart Association funded, Evie had a surgery this past summer to correct her heart. When asked what she is excited to start doing now with her “new” heart, she said, “hockey” and even “baseball.”

The money goes to advocacy work to fund more laws focused on saving lives, like the anatomy scan that discovered the hole in Evie’s heart when she was only 20-weeks gestational. Or the Pulse Ox test given to all babies at birth to screen for heart defects within the first few hours of life.

The money goes to fund scientific advancements such as the Pacemaker, which the American Heart Association funded in 1960, as well as supporting CPR trainings and guidelines, and BP guidelines for thousands of hospitals across the country. The money helps to support putting P.E. Equipment in schools who do not have the resources so that our next generation is getting the 90 minutes of play a day they need for healthy, happy hearts.

heart balloon sculpture

Heart-themed selfie station at the 2019 Buffalo Wine and Chocolate Festival.

Our work doesn’t stop. We are in every corner of every community, helping to put a stop to heart disease. Unfortunately, heart disease is still the no.1 killer of all Americans – more than all cancers combined. In fact, every 40 seconds someone dies of cardiovascular disease. We cannot keep hearts beating without your support.

The American Heart Association is second to the federal government when it comes to funding research. We fund more early-investigator research than any nonprofit organization in the World. 100 percent of the proceeds we raise locally stays locally.

In Buffalo, we are currently funding $1.9 million in research. Without the support of our community, our brand power wouldn’t be maximized in our local communities. Every dollar raised counts towards one life. This life could be our mother, our sister, our daughters, our friends, our father, our sons or our brothers.

Your dollar speaks volumes to us. With the help from Summit Federal Credit Union through the Wine and Chocolate Festival, we are making a meaningful impact and meeting people where they are.

Two women with baby

Center: Michelle Mason (Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association).

Today, I work hard to make a difference in the lives of all of those who have been affected by heart disease – and there are many in our own community. I also have used my own story, and the stories of others, to focus on my own health, so that I can continue to live a long and healthy life for my daughter and son. As well, I use my knowledge to make sure my own parents are taking care of themselves.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart and from the hearts of everyone at the American Heart Association for helping us to make a difference, save lives, and empower more people to become more proactive when it comes to their own heart health.

Connect with the Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association on Twitter @WNYHeart #GoRedBuffalo and on Facebook/Instagram @AHANewYork.

Get tickets to the Buffalo Wine and Chocolate Festival, held Saturday, January 25, 2020.