Community Conversations - American Heart Association

Oct 30, 2019

Part of HYPE’s mission is to help young professionals become better engaged in community life, expand professional and social opportunities, and become ambassadors for the Hartford Region. HYPE encourages cross-collaboration among agencies and organizations that offer opportunities to volunteer in the community. The Community Conversations series focuses on interviewing professionals in a local nonprofit to bring awareness to their mission, highlight their impact in the community, and provide information on how to get more involved with the organization. For the October 2019 edition Community Involvement Committee member Janine Belsky interviewed Todd Munn, Executive Director of Field Operations/Development for CT American Heart Association.

What is the mission of your organization?

The mission of the American Heart Association is: “To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.”  We’ll take a deeper dive into this statement by learning more about the organization’s history.

The American Heart Association was founded by six cardiologists in 1924 with a vision to fight heart disease and stroke. On a global scale, heart disease is the No. 1 killer and stoke is the No. 2 killer.  In both the United States and in Connecticut alone, heart disease still ranks as the No. 1 killer, followed by stroke at No. 5. Since its inception, LOGO for AHAthe AHA has become the oldest and largest voluntary organization in the country to work towards eliminating these diseases, with the help of 33 million volunteers and 3400 employees. 

The work that the AHA does is essentially two-fold: (1) educating the community about how to live a healthy lifestyle to prevent the occurrence of heart disease and stroke and (2) funding lifesaving research to help people survive heart disease and stroke and to improve their quality of life after these events may have occurred. The AHA holds programs and events aimed at all age groups to touch all aspects of what it means to live well, from eating healthy to being active to avoiding tobacco to managing your blood pressure and cholesterol. The AHA also works with hospitals in order to improve cardiac care. The AHA has invested $4.5 billion in scientific research and there is $7 million currently funded projects in CT. When you participate in an event or program in CT, your donations will go toward these projects that are funded in CT.

What is your role within the organization?

Todd Munn is the Executive Director of Field Operations/Development for CT. As Executive Director, Todd oversees the development programs in CT that raise money for cardiovascular and stoke research. But equally as important, he collaborates with other departments within the organization to ensure that everyone’s goals align, as they have similar objectives and projects that overlap. For example, he works closely with Community Impact (i.e. implementing blood pressure programs in the community); Advocacy (i.e. communicating with local and state officials to pass laws that support the AHA’s mission); Mission Advancement (supporting research initiatives); and Resuscitation Quality Improvement, or RQI (i.e. improving CPR training amongst healthcare providers).

Todd also manages the Board of Directors for CT, which is made up of individuals across the healthcare, corporate, and nonprofit fields. The board meets on a quarterly basis to further implement the AHA’s mission. Todd coordinates with the board members about their leadership and helps define the committee’s goals  He makes sure to leverage each person’s skills and background to make sure they can have the maximum impact.  This year, the board’s two main focuses are limiting tobacco use and managing blood pressure. 

How do you implement your services or programs?

The American Heart Association implements its services through several different channels. First, the AHA holds various development events throughout the year such as the Heart Walk, Go Red for Women Luncheon, Heart Ball Gala, and CycleNation. In CT specifically, these events occur throughout different counties in the state. They serve as some of the core ways for the organization to raise awareness about the risks for cardiovascular disease and stroke and to raise funds to support research for these diseases. There are also programs targeted towards youth (the Kids Heart Challenge and the American Heart Challenge), which provide educational resources for schools, children, and parents about what it means to live a healthy lifestyle while raising money for the AHA’s missioAHA pic 1n. 

Next, the Advocacy department works closely with politicians to pass legislation that aligns with living a healthy life, including raising the purchase age of tobacco to 21, banning flavored tobacco products, and ensuring healthy options for kids’ fast food meals. In the Community Impact department, there is a big focus on controlling high blood pressure. The AHA runs programs for individuals and for employees through their corporations to make sure people are aware of and controlling their blood pressure, as high blood pressure is a risk for cardiovascular disease. Then there is the Resuscitation Quality Improvement (RQI) team, which works to improve the quality of CPR training in the healthcare space. The AHA also has the Get with the Guidelines program, which involves working with hospitals to improve their care to match the AHA’s best practices to treat stroke, cardiac arrest, and heart attacks.

Finally, the AHA encourages everyone to learn CPR, whether it is Hands-Only CPR (i.e. doing chest compressions only) or CPR with both chest compressions and giving breaths. When someone goes into cardiac arrest, has a stroke, or becomes unresponsive, providing CPR can save a person’s life. 

In what ways has your organization been impactful to your cause?

There are several ways in which the American Heart Association is delivering its services and working to achieve its mission. One of the most recent wins in CT has been raising the purchase age of tobacco from 18 to 21. At the age of 18, kids can still be in high school, so this new legislation will help prevent youth from accessing tobacco products and will keep these products out of schools. Approximately 90% of people who do not start smoking by age 21 won’t ever start, so this new legislation is also helping to prevent kids from ever starting to smoke in the first place. 

This legislation is a very important step in today’s world where vaping has become extremely prevalent in schools. Vaping describes the act of inhaling the aerosol or vapor from an electronic cigarette (also known as an e-cigarette). E-cigarettes contain nicotine and other toxic chemicals that are damaging to the lungs and body. Recently, vaping and the use of e-cigarettes have drastically increased amongst middle and high school students and the AHA is working very hard to tackle this issue.

One of the most relevant takeaways for young professionals and members of HYPE is knowing your health numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI (body mass index). It’s not just about what happens to you if you have heart disease down the road; it starts with understanding the early recognition of cardiovascular disease (including diabetes) and how to prevent it now. The following risk factors have been identified by the AHA as areas to improve in order to live a healthy lifestyle. They are referred to as Life’s Simple 7: manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, reduce blood sugar, get active, eat better, lose weight, and stop smoking.AHA pic 3

So make sure you are going for an annual checkup and testing for the numbers above.  And remember it’s not just about your weight. Your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar all play a role in determining your health in the future. If one of those numbers is elevated, work with your doctor to get them under control. How can you change your eating habits? How can you change your lifestyle? 

How does someone get more involved?

There are several ways to get more involved with the American Heart Association. Keep an eye out for local events happening in CT and support their fundraising efforts. There will be a CycleNation event in Waterbury on January 23, where people are asked to form teams of 6, take turns riding a spin bike, and raise money for their team. There will also be a Go Red for Women Luncheon at the Convention Center in Hartford on March 11, which focuses on women’s heart health. There will be guest speakers and the AHA will be partnering with Saint Francis Hospital to put on this event. You can visit the website  for more information on local events and programs.

On a personal level, you can make sure to know your health numbers and learn CPR.  As mentioned previously, understanding your health numbers early on will help you recognize the signs for heart disease and stroke. Additionally, learning CPR equips you with a life-saving skill that can be needed at any point, any time. Learn how to prevent heart disease at any age and get your CPR certification today!

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