April 30, 2021 Healthy Living

Meet Sarah: Living Fierce

A long-time supporter of the American Heart Association’s Capital Region Heart Walk & Run, I walk in memory of my little brother, father, and grandfather. I also walk to honor several loved ones who live with or have overcome heart disease, including my uncle who received a heart transplant a few years ago.

I’m thrilled that this year’s American Heart Association Heart Challenge is chaired by our very own president and CEO, Dr. John Bennett, a former practicing cardiologist! Our goal for this year’s Heart Walk & Run Digital Experience is to raise $575,000 to help further the mission of the American Heart Association (AHA): To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.

While I miss being together in person for the Heart Walk, the digital format has its advantages – including the flexibility to walk or run anytime, anywhere. (No excuses, right?) We hope you’ll consider joining us on Sunday, June 6.

I’d like to introduce you to Sarah Johnson, a colleague who started at CDPHP® in 2015 as a clinical account executive and is now a senior large group sales executive. A passionate supporter of the AHA, Sarah’s experience of loss as a teenager reminds me of my own. She’s also a survivor and a perfect example of the AHA’s motto: to live fierce.

Sarah, tell me a little about yourself.

I grew up in Scotia. Today I live in Ballston Lake with my husband Eric and our kids (Grayson, 15 and Max, 12). I love to do anything that gets me outside and active. I enjoy the opportunity to unplug and go out into nature for long weekend back-country paddling and camping trips with my husband. If I’m lucky, I can convince my kids to join us, although that’s not easy to do these days when they are attached to their electronics 24/7. In the wintertime, I enjoy downhill skiing and exploring new ski towns. I travel any chance I get and have a very long bucket list of places I want to visit. A recent pre-COVID favorite trip was to Moab, Utah where my husband and I camped out in Canyonlands and visited Arches National Park.  

Why is the American Heart Association important to you?

When I was 16 years old, I lost my dad to a heart attack. He died while out on the golf course at 42 years old. At the time, the ambulance that responded wasn’t equipped with a defibrillator. Unfortunately, by the time they got him to the hospital, it was too late to save him.

I have an older brother, and the focus was always on his heart health since heart issues usually run in the male side of the family. Never in a million years did I think I would be the one with the cardiac issues. At the age of 38, I was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia and a mitral valve prolapse. I underwent surgery to implant an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) and pacemaker to control the tachycardia. Then in 2019, I had open heart surgery to repair my leaky valve. I’m hopeful this will be the final surgery related to my cardiac health.

I often reflect back and wonder whether the result might have been different if my dad had his heart attack in 2021 vs. 1989. The advancements in cardiac technology are a direct result of the research and education funded by the AHA, to whom I will be forever grateful. It is these advancements that give me an opportunity to live a long, healthy, active life.

We’ve sat together at a few American Heart Association events, which is how I knew you were active with the organization. What other ways do you show your support?

I have attended many AHA events, including the Heart Ball, Go Red for Women Luncheon, and the Heart Walk. I was also a member of the Circle of Red, a small group of women who make a personal commitment to support the AHA with a financial gift and also as an ambassador for the mission. Additionally, I shared my story at the Red Couch Tour, a mobile event aimed at raising awareness of heart health in women. And last, but certainly not least, an event highlight for my kids was to join me in pushing the button to turn the CDPHP building lights red at the Glow Red Day press conference. 

How do you keep yourself fit and healthy?

I have always enjoyed running to stay in shape. For me, it’s a great goal-setting exercise. Signing up for a race holds me accountable and keeps my training on track. I love doing “destination runs.” My first half marathon was through Central Park in New York City. I also love a race that gives me an ocean view! Since being home due to COVID, I’ve tried to incorporate more resistance training using weights. I take advantage of the great classes offered to CDPHP employees as well.  

Any advice you want to share?

Be your own advocate. You know your body best. If you feel like something isn’t right, don’t wait to get it checked out. If you don’t feel like you’re getting the right answers, either find a different doctor or push the one you have to continue searching for the answer. It could save your life.

Now More Than Ever

The AHA is doing a tremendous amount of work around COVID-19, including researching the link between the virus and heart disease. They’re also creating a registry so the connection can be studied far into the future. But this hasn’t slowed down any of their other initiatives. They continue to create guidelines to ensure cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be performed safely and effectively – even during a pandemic! And like CDPHP, they are committed to ending health inequities. They are striving to maximize SNAP benefits, reduce tobacco use, and prevent hypertension and obesity in our community.

For every $1,000,000 that is raised in the Capital Region each year, roughly $2,000,000 comes back to our community in research funding.

Want to be a relentless force? Here are 3 easy ways to support the American Heart Association:

  1. Join Sarah, Dr. Bennett, and me “at” the Heart Walk on June 6! Sign up for the American Heart Association Heart Walk & Run. If your employer isn’t participating yet, convince them to do so. Or join a community team.
  2. Make a donation. Unable to participate, but still want to show your support? You can search for any walker to donate to their page – or donate directly to support Sarah’s fundraising efforts.
  3. Learn how to protect yourself and your family from heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association and CDPHP both have resources available.

Together, we can help improve the health of our community. Live fierce, everybody!

Heather Rogers
About the Author

Heather joined CDPHP in 2004. In her free time, she enjoys doodling with her kids, running, doing yoga, listening to podcasts, reading, and eating pizza, but not necessarily in that order. She has read at least one biography about nearly every U.S. president, and struggles to restrain herself from shoehorning presidential facts into completely unrelated conversations. She loves making lists and gets super-excited when she learns new things. Heather also likes to drop trivia bombs now and then (did you know that former President Harry Truman received the first ever Medicare card?). She has a BFA in graphic design from The College of Saint Rose. Heather lives in Niskayuna with her husband, who sometimes tires of her trivia but makes an amazing pizza, and their kids.

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