Stephanie Dempsey

Stephanie Dempsey, an American Heart Association volunteer from Blairsville, Georgia, who testified before the Senate Finance Committee in July about the devastating toll of heart disease on her and her family, has died. She was 44.

Dempsey was diagnosed with hereditary coronary artery disease at age 21. She had quadruple bypass surgery at 30, and later had another bypass. Along the way, Dempsey — who also dealt with lupus, a seizure disorder and arthritis — lost her job, her home and so much more.

Dempsey told lawmakers that the strain caused by her chronic health conditions also ruined her marriage and that she had no choice but to move in with her parents. They became her caregivers, often driving her to appointments several hours away.

She also described how heart disease affected all the women in her family. Her only sister died from it at 28. Her mom was 48 when she had quadruple bypass surgery. The hearing focused on problems faced by patients living with chronic diseases and the additional challenges posed by the nation’s healthcare system.

“I am confident that you will not forget me and countless other people when you develop policies that will help all of us,” Dempsey told lawmakers. “Our goals are all the same — to live long, healthy and productive lives.”

Betsy Vetter, senior director of government relations at the American Heart Association in North Carolina, met Dempsey in 2006. Dempsey started as a Go Red For Women spokesperson and soon became involved in other AHA initiatives, including the “Are You Covered?” campaign and You’re the Cure.

“She was one of the most powerful spokespersons we’ve ever had. She eloquently shared the critical need for access to health care and the consequences when you don’t have it,” said Vetter. “She really was one of our You’re the Cure heroes. That’s what a hero does — they put themselves out there to help other people, and that’s what Stephanie did.”

“We join Stephanie’s loved ones in mourning her loss,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “Her devotion to our cause, while battling her own illness, is a testament to the kind of person she was. Her legacy will continue as we continue seeking ways to help and improve the lives of everyone afflicted by heart disease.”

Stephanie Dawn Carter Dempsey was born in Huntington, West Virginia, on March 7, 1970. In adulthood, her professional career included stints with the Jacksonville Senior Jewish Center, serving as a phlebotomist for a medical practice and working as a paralegal for a law firm.

She died Dec. 15, at her home in Blairsville. She is survived by her parents, David and Nancy Carter of Blairsville; son, Jacob Randall Dempsey, of Hampton, South Carolina; brother and sister-in-law, David Michael Carter and Ginny, of St. Johns, Florida; two nieces, Madeline Carter and Abigail Carter; and three nephews, Austin, Cain, and Gage Dempsey.

Photo courtesy of Courtney Doby