jill cawley washington med Beasley Allens Cawley visits nations capital as American Heart Association advocateJill Cawley, Secretary to the Investigators at Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., traveled to Washington, D.C., April 28-29 to participate in the American Heart Association’s “Lobby Day,” part of its volunteer advocacy program called “You’re the Cure.”

The Heart Association has been involved in congressional advocacy for more than 30 years, bringing volunteers from all walks of life to meet with legislators about issues of heart health, stroke, heart disease, awareness and prevention. Cawley was among nearly 700 people from every state and territory who attended this year’s Lobby Day. Also attending from Alabama was Birmingham attorney Bill Bryant and Dr. Walter Johnson, a pediatric cardiologist at UAB.

Jill became active with the Heart Association after suffering two heart attacks in 2002, at the young age of 43. She required a quadruple bypass surgery and a pacemaker. The experience motivated her to lose weight, exercise and talk to others about heart health.

As part of Lobby Day, You’re the Cure advocates asked lawmakers to significantly boost funding for heart disease and stroke research and prevention. In the United States, heart disease is the No. 1 killer, and stroke is No. 3.

One of the issues volunteer advocates addressed with lawmakers is the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act, which would amend the No Child Left Behind Act to make physical education (PE) a priority in schools. The FIT Kids Act would encourage schools to work toward the national goal of making PE and physical activity a daily reality for all school children.

The FIT Kids initiative really speaks to Jill, who says she herself was an overweight child, and carried that weight and its accompanying bad habits into adulthood. She struggled with high blood pressure as a result, in addition to developing the seven blockages in her heart that led to her heart attack(s) and bypass surgery.

“I was an overweight child, and I grew into an overweight adult,” Cawley said. “Childhood obesity will eventually result in a whole lot of medical expenses down the line. The number of overweight children is increasing rapidly, and 70 percent of overweight children remain overweight into adulthood. The link between obesity and heart disease is well established, so these children have a greater likelihood of experiencing heart problems in connection to their obesity in adulthood. It’s all about prevention,” she said. “It’s like the old car commercial that said, ‘You can pay me now or you can pay me later.’ Get an oil filter and tune up now, or replace the whole engine.”

In addition to FIT Kids, advocates talked to lawmakers to increase funding for heart and stroke research supported by the National Institutes for Health (NIH). Currently, NIH invests only 7 percent of its budget on heart research, and 1 percent on stroke.

They also asked for an increase in funding for the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, which provides grants to states to implement programs to reduce risk factors for heart disease and stroke, improve emergency response and quality care, and eliminate treatment disparities. Only 13 states currently receive funding from this program.

Another CDC program for which advocates asked lawmakers for funding is the WISEWOMAN Program. The acronym stands for “Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation,” and provides health screening for uninsured, under-insured and low-income women ages 40-64.

In addition to helping to secure crucial funding for heart disease and stroke research, Jill feels the Lobby Day and You’re the Cure programs are important as a way of raising awareness and furthering the mission of prevention at an individual level.

“People think maybe they can’t afford to go to the doctor for a screening or if they feel something might be wrong, they don’t want to know. Maybe they feel ok right now, so they hope that everything is fine,” she says. “They may be in denial, think they’re probably healthier than the next person, or just afraid of what will be found, and if it’s bad, what they’re going to do about it.”

Facing these fears and committing to a healthy lifestyle can be challenging, Jill admits, and it’s a lifelong path. It’s easier to eat what you like, to put off exercising, to slip back into bad habits. But becoming aware, and making the right choices, is too important to ignore, she insists.

“You either make the changes, or you accept the consequences,” she says.

For more information about heart disease and stroke, visit the American Heart Association online or call 1-800-AHA-USA-1 to find a local Heart Association near you. For more information about joining the You’re the Cure advocacy program, visit www.yourethecureonthehill.heart.org.

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