Photos of heart failure ambassadors

Am I going to die?

It’s the first question many people ask when they’re told they have heart failure.

But a group of American Heart Association volunteers are heralding a positive message: A heart failure diagnosis isn’t a death sentence if patients maintain a healthy lifestyle, stay alert to health changes and get proper treatment to manage the condition.

It was in fact a heart failure diagnosis that gave the AHA’s seven new Heart Failure Ambassadors a renewed purpose in life: helping others gain courage and understanding by sharing their survival stories.

The Heart Failure Ambassadors are:

  • Mark Cecola, a restaurateur from suburban Chicago who was born with a congenital heart defect. He developed heart failure in his 30s after contracting a flu-like virus.
  • Kim Ketter and Shaun Rivers, identical twin sisters from Richmond, Virginia, who use their nursing skills and faith to teach others how to live healthier through the AHA’s EmPowered to Serve program.
  • Jang Jaswal of San Francisco who had his first heart attack in his mid-30s. After living with heart failure for many years, he received a heart transplant in 2013.
  • Aimee Rodriguez-Zepeda, a mother of three from Woodbridge, Virginia, who survived cancer and was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Her passion for motorcycle riding led her to found a bike rally fundraiser for the AHA.
  • Mike and Beth O’Meara of Philadelphia who have worked in tandem to make major lifestyle changes after Mike’s triple bypass surgery and subsequent heart failure diagnosis three years ago.

The ambassadors will share their stories at AHA’s Heart Walks, Go Red For Women luncheons and Heart Balls, as well as through local and national media. They will also offer support to others with heart failure through the association’s Support Network.

Photo: Heart Failure Ambassadors (clockwise) Aimee Rodriguez-Zepeda, Kim Ketter, Shaun Rivers, Beth O’Meara, Mike O’Meara, Jang Jaswal and Mark Cecola