Heart failure survivor Shane Mandel with American Heart Association president Dr. Steven Houser in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. (Photo by Richard Greenhouse)

Heart failure survivor Shane Mandel with American Heart Association president Dr. Steven Houser in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. (Photo by Richard Greenhouse)

Shane Mandel stood before a reception on Capitol Hill and made a seemingly surprising disclosure:

“I am Shane, I’m 35 and I have congestive heart failure,” he told the 200 or so people gathered for an American Heart Month reception in Washington, D.C., where a new report about the growing burden of cardiovascular disease was released.

Mandel, who lives in Suffolk, Va., is far younger than many people who have heart failure – which occurs when the heart becomes too weak to properly pump blood throughout the body. His story is both a cautionary tale about the future of heart disease in America, and a story of how scientific research can save lives.

He described the terror of the diagnosis last year, which came after two heart attacks.

“I never thought about what would happen if I was gone tomorrow,” Mandel said in an impassioned speech Wednesday. “I was suddenly faced with my own mortality. I realized I could wake up in an ER at any given point and I would have to explain all this to my kids.”

Mandel, whose father died from cardiovascular disease in his early 30s, credited research funded by the federal government with saving his life. Specifically, a defibrillator vest he wore for five months that helped him get back to his “normal” routine more quickly and dramatically improved his post-heart attack quality of life.

“None of us should be held hostage to our genetic circumstances,” he said. And continuing to fund research is a “crucial” step to preventing cardiovascular disease from becoming a part of another person’s story, Mandel said.

Mandel is the face of the American Heart Association’s new effort to raise awareness about the growing cardiovascular disease burden.

He spoke alongside AHA President Steven Houser, Ph.D., who discussed the urgency of research funding in light of the new AHA-commissioned analysis projecting what lies ahead in cardiovascular disease prevalence and costs through 2035.

The report predicts that by 2035, more than 131 million Americans will be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, costing the nation more than $1.1 trillion annually.

Even though heart disease and stroke account for 23 percent and 4 percent of all deaths respectively, the National Institutes of Health invests just 4 percent of its budget on heart disease research, 1 percent on stroke research and 2 percent on other cardiovascular research

Houser urged policymakers, scientists and advocates to work together to ensure progress in medical research does not stall despite the tense political climate. An interdisciplinary approach is the only way we can move forward and continue to find innovative cures for heart disease and stroke, he said.

Gary Gibbons, M.D., director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and an AHA volunteer, also spoke at the reception and noted the importance of not reveling in past progress.

“Though we’ve been gloried in success, we still have unfinished business” when it comes to tackling cardiovascular disease, Gibbons said.

He cited the recent turnaround in declines in cardiovascular disease mortality rates, which have flattened to less than 1 percent per year since 2011, and worsened for the most at-risk populations.

Gibbons urged policymakers and advocates, to rededicate themselves to fighting for adequate and consistent NIH funding for research.

“The ‘H’ in NIH stands for hope,” he said, “And we are now on the threshold for change to put a stamp on heart disease for the next generation.”

Wednesday’s event was hosted by the AHA in conjunction with WomenHeart: the National Coalition of Women With Heart Disease, the American College of Cardiology, the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology and the Heart Failure Society of America.