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Heart Assn. Staffer "Knows Why LGBTQ Outreach is Important"

The American Heart Association is ramping up its health outreach to the LGBTQ community, which included a booth at the Hampton Roads Pride event. (MeShall Hills/American Heart Assn.)
The American Heart Association is ramping up its health outreach to the LGBTQ community, which included a booth at the Hampton Roads Pride event. (MeShall Hills/American Heart Assn.)
June 26, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. -- The American Heart Association is beginning health outreach to members of the LGBTQ community, a group with higher rates of stress and smoking.

One AHA staffer in Virginia knows all too well how important that can be. Teri Arnold, director of marketing and communications at the the Heart Association in Hampton Roads, is a lesbian. She survived a totally unexpected heart attack at age 42, she said, because working with the group taught her the symptoms, and convinced her to take them seriously.

"I was a vegan, I worked out daily. But I had the 'elephant on the chest,' the dizziness, the nausea,” Arnold said. "I immediately said to my wife, 'You need to call 911.'"

She said for the first time, the AHA took part in the Hampton Roads Pride event, teaching CPR and giving free blood pressure screenings. And they have committed to take part in other pride events nationally this year. Arnold said these demographic groups are less likely to have healthcare access and may even face discrimination when they go to the doctor.

June is National LGBT Pride Month.

Arnold, who is a former smoker, said one issue the AHA will focus on is the high smoking rates in the LGBTQ community - just as it targets high blood pressure among African Americans, or specific health issues for women or Latinos.

"Now, we're focusing on the LGBT community. For the first time, we had an American Heart Association/American Stroke Association booth,” she said. "We felt that it was a huge success, and we were embraced at this event."

Arnold said what she had was a coronary artery spasm, a bit different than most heart attacks - with different causes, but maybe just as deadly. She is getting the treatment she needs and said things look good.

"Over time, this disease is going to get better for me. And I know with the research from the AHA, new procedures and new things coming out, there's a lot of hope for me in the future,” Arnold said.

About 220,000 Virginians identify as LGBTQ.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA