CHICAGO Sept. 28, 2023 – Where someone lives should not dictate how long they live. Nine Chicago leaders are joining the American Heart Association’s Leaders of Impact campaign to combat health inequities in the Windy City, where the 30-year life expectancy gap between Chicago’s downtown Streeterville neighborhood and the South Side community of Englewood is the largest in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, a global force for healthier lives for all, this discrepancy can be caused by social determinants of health and other barriers to achieving health equity for all communities. These factors include structural racism[1], availability of nutritious foods, economic instability and access to quality healthcare. 

“Leaders of Impact in Chicago gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘lift as we climb,’” said Brittany Walsh, executive director of the American Heart Association, Chicago. “Our health is a critical component of our ability to show up and positively impact the world around us. By raising funds to promote health equity and save lives, our nine nominees are empowering people across Chicago to be their best selves while improving their communities.”

The Leaders of Impact initiative engages local leaders across 150 cities to take part in a seven-week challenge to improve health by raising awareness and funds to support the life-saving work of the American Heart Association.      

Chicago nominees were selected to take part in Leaders of Impact because of their passion and drive to make a difference. This year’s nominees are:

  • Patrick Besler, director of government relations, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois
  • Sam Elrad, growth strategy associate, Avant
  • Nick Farwig, managing director – senior management consulting executive – strategy & consulting, Accenture
  • David Francis, partner, Slalom
  • Mike Gaal, principal & consulting actuary, Milliman
  • Dr. Farah Hussain, medical director of cardiovascular services – Advocate Health – Central Chicago – Dreyer, Advocate Aurora Health
  • Connor McDermott, vice president, A1 Health Ventures
  • Gina Parker, health care account manager, Interior Investments
  • Toni Tashiro, vice president – strategic account management, Hello Heart

Beginning on World Heart Day, Sept. 29, nominees will work to raise funds while engaging their networks in opportunities including CPR education sessions and events related to the Association’s annual Heart of Chicago campaign. Each nominee’s efforts will be geared toward directly impacting the health of all of Chicago’s diverse residents. Funds raised will support the American Heart Association’s 2024 Impact Goal which aims to advance cardiovascular health for all, including identifying and removing barriers to equitable health care access and quality. Currently, the American Heart Association is working with local stakeholders and community members to address barriers and inequities around healthy food availability, workplace wellness and emergency response plans, and CPR education, in line with the American Heart Association’s recently debuted Nation of Lifesavers Initiative.  

“Last year was an amazing year for this change-making initiative and we are so thrilled to have a new cohort of leaders joining us in the charge to improve and extend lives in Chicago,” said Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, president of the American Heart Association’s Metro Chicago board of directors and vice chair of preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Cardiovascular disease remains a top killer in Chicago and Illinois as a whole. Our work will never be done, but having influential people as part of our efforts helps us make incredible strides every year.”

The Chicago Leaders of Impact winner will be announced following the campaign culmination on National Philanthropy Day, Nov. 15, and will be celebrated at the Chicago Heart Ball on Saturday, April 20, 2024, at the Navy Pier’s Aon Grand Ballroom. Last year, Chicago Leaders of Impact nominee John Zachara, was named the No. 1 Leaders of Impact nominee in the nation after raising more than $75,000 individually. Chicago was the country’s top campaign after six Leaders raised more than $219,000 throughout the nearly two-month campaign.

For more information on the Leaders of Impact Initiative or to support one of this year’s nominees, visit:




About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.  


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Jorie Goins: (312) 298-9335;
Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721) and