On Saturday, Sept. 10, I was able to join more than 600 of my colleagues from Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, to participate in the Dallas Heart Walk, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association (AHA) that raises more than $6 million annually to fight cardiovascular disease. As a new member of the Frito-Lay team, I was excited to participate in this event and serve as the team’s communications chair, not only for the opportunity to get to know my coworkers outside of our regular routine, but also because of the personal connection this cause has to me and my family.
My grandmother, Mary Alice Stam, is a retired nursing professor, an avid reader, a passionate genealogist, and a stroke survivor. On Nov. 11, 2014, while visiting a local war memorial at a nearby park in honor of Veterans Day, my grandmother had a massive stroke. Thankfully, a family friend happened to be walking her dog in the same park and was able to call 911 after seeing my grandmother and realizing something was very wrong.
Stroke severity is measured using a tool called the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale, plotting a patient’s stroke from zero (no symptoms) to 16 (death). When my grandmother arrived at the hospital, her stroke was rated a 13, destroying as many as 2 million brain cells per minute. After an intensive surgery, involving traveling an instrument through her femoral artery into her brain and capturing the clot in a mesh, she returned to a zero. Thanks to our friend’s ability to recognize a stroke and take immediate action, coupled with cutting-edge technology, my grandmother not only survived, but was able to make a complete recovery, a zero on the stroke scale.
You might be wondering, "Why is she talking about a stroke when she participated in the Heart Walk?" Strokes and heart health very often go hand in hand. The type of stroke my grandmother had (and 87 percent of all strokes in general) is called an ischemic stroke, resulting from a blood clot. My grandmother’s clot developed in her heart, broke away and traveled through her blood stream until it became lodged in her brain, cutting off blood flow.
AHA invests in life-saving research, provides up-to-date information on heart health to both medical professionals and the public, and provides accessible educational tools, like CPR training and information on stroke recognition. It also advocates for taking ownership of your health, including integrating small changes in your lifestyle in order to prevent potentially life-threatening conditions, like blood clots or high blood pressure. Because of education like this, our friend was able to identify that my grandmother was having a stroke. The work that AHA is doing is truly lifesaving.
Frito-Lay, PepsiCo and its employees have partnered with AHA through the Dallas Heart Walk for 13 years, donating more than $4.4 million dollars to fight heart disease. This year, the Frito-Lay team raised more than $350,000, and that number is still climbing thanks to the PepsiCo Foundation’s commitment to match employees’ charitable contributions.
On the morning of the walk, despite heavy thunderstorms in the hours leading up to the event, hundreds of Frito-Lay and PepsiCo employees surrounded Reunion Tower, covering downtown Dallas with their bright yellow shirts, and walked the 3-mile course to promote heart health and show their support for those affected by cardiovascular disease and stroke. As a family member of a stroke survivor, it was incredibly inspiring to see thousands of North Texans walking together in the rain to stand in solidarity with AHA’s efforts, but it was especially meaningful to see the support of my new coworkers. Their fundraising efforts and willingness to show up on that soggy morning are saving lives, lives just like my grandmother’s.