ANCHORAGE, Alaska, January 11, 2024 — The American Heart Association, a global force devoted to a world of healthier lives for all, has named eight tenacious women to serve as ambassadors for the 2024 Go Red for Women® movement in Alaska. These advocates and survivors highlight the ways cardiovascular disease can impact women of all backgrounds and life stages. This year’s ambassadors share their personal stories and passion with the hope of inspiring others to prioritize heart and brain health for themselves and their loved ones.
For the last two decades, the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement has raised awareness of cardiovascular disease – the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. – and served as a catalyst for change to improve the lives of women globally. Now, as the American Heart Association marks 100 years as an organization, the movement remains committed to empowering even more women to know their risk factors and access the tools they need to live long, healthy lives.
Meet the 2024 Alaska Go Red for Women ambassadors:
Andrea Witte, Anchorage. Although she was born with Marfan Syndrome – a rare genetic connective tissue disorder that affects the heart, eyes, lungs and skeletal system – Andrea grew up doing nearly everything her peers could, from downhill skiing to playing multiple instruments. She even became an advocate within the Marfan community starting in middle school. Then, during her first year of college, she underwent an eleven-hour, open-heart surgery to repair a large aortic aneurysm caused by Marfan Syndrome. She eventually received a permanent pacemaker, which enabled her to keep skiing and rock climbing, graduate college, kickstart her career and even travel across Alaska in a refurbished van with her partner. Andrea continues her advocacy work to help others with Marfan Syndrome and heart disease, including pushing for new scientific advancements to build on the ones that created her own life-saving pacemaker device.
Billie Sundgren-Tewalt, Fairbanks. In March 2023, Billie was at home when she felt an inexplicable headrush. It felt as if she had suddenly stood up, even though she was seated, and nothing had happened to trigger the sensation and paralyze the entire right side of her body. After some hesitancy, she contacted her medical provider who told her to go to the hospital right away. There, she was diagnosed with a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a "mini stroke" or "warning stroke." After one night in the intensive care unit, Billie went home and returned to work the next week. Although she recovered fully from the TIA and doesn’t have a family history of heart disease or stroke, she remains on high alert for any symptoms that could signal she’s suffering a stroke. She wants other women to learn the signs of a TIA or stroke, understand there’s no shame in experiencing one, and know to call 9-1-1 if they think one may be occurring.
Chelsea Hunt, Anchorage. In February 2022, Chelsea was at home chatting with her friend on Facetime when something suddenly didn’t feel right. The left side of Chelsea’s body had lost sensation and was unresponsive. She was having a stroke. Although her friend was out of the state and unable to intervene, Chelsea’s 12-year-old son was home and called 9-1-1. Paramedics arrived and Chelsea was quickly transported to the hospital where she received treatment within 30 minutes of her stroke symptom onset. The quick response by her community – including her friend, son, the EMS personnel and the neurologist – literally helped save Chelsea’s life. She had no residual side effects from the stroke, was discharged from the hospital within a few days, and could return to work within three weeks. She credits much of her positive outcome to the initial rapid response and believes that it’s critical for everyone, including kids, to know the signs of stroke and when to call for help.
Ella Goss, MSN, RN, Anchorage. From her time working as a nurse in rural communities across Alaska to her current role overseeing the state’s largest healthcare provider, Ella understands firsthand the vital role of community collaboration in addressing women’s unique health needs. As the chief executive of Providence Alaska, Ella is dedicated to helping remove barriers to care and raising awareness of women’s health issues. To further promote this important cause within her community, she is serving as the 2024 Anchorage Go Red for Women chairperson.
Jenny Gilbertson, Fairbanks. As a Fairbanks native and founding coach of The PWR House, Jenny is eager to bring her passion for health, fitness and community to the Go Red for Women movement in Fairbanks. Serving as a 2024 Fairbanks Go Red for Women chairperson, she believes the movement can help encourage those in her community to become powerhouses for positive change, creating a Fairbanks where all women are able to lead full, healthy lives.
Jimmie Russell, Anchorage. In 1998, Jimmie was visiting her doctor to have a sinus infection treated when her blood pressure reading wasn't quite right. Her doctor did an electrocardiogram (EKG) and determined that she needed heart surgery right away because of major blockages in two of her arteries. The following day, Jimmie had double bypass surgery. She recovered well and now, 25 years since the surgery, feels incredibly blessed for the extra time and relatively good health it helped afford her, including precious moments with her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In addition to her doctor taking swift action when he noticed an issue during that routine sinus infection visit, Jimmie credits her positive outcome to the continued care she had following the surgery, being careful to take her prescribed medications, and listening even more closely to the signals her body sends.
Sarah Mattie, Anchorage. After giving birth to her daughter, Sarah developed postpartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), an uncommon form of heart failure. When she began to receive treatment for her condition, it was discovered that she also had left ventricular non-compaction (LVNC), a rare congenital heart defect (CHD) that can cause lethal arrhythmia. She was given an implantable loop recorder (ILR), a small device which functions as a permanent EKG. Several years later, she noticed an increase in arrhythmia, and, upon further examination, she underwent surgery to have a subcutaneous implantable cardiac defibrillator (S-ICD) put in, a device that detects and stops irregular heartbeats. Sarah feels incredibly thankful for the advancements in technology that created her life-saving devices. She advises new moms to listen to their body and if something feels particularly out of the ordinary to seek medical help and advocate for the right care.
Stephanie Woodard, Fairbanks. Throughout her career, Stephanie has found roles where she can serve as a bridge between organizations and local communities. Whether in her time as a family readiness leader for the U.S. army, an on-air reporter for KTVF or communications coordinator for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, she helps empower her community with critical information. Now, as a founding coach of The PWR House and 2024 Fairbanks Go Red for Women chairperson, Stephanie hopes to empower even more women across the Fairbanks community with the tools and knowledge they need to achieve a sustainably healthy lifestyle.
To help raise awareness and show support for the Go Red for Women movement, the community is invited to wear red on Go Red for Women’s icon day, National Wear Red Day on Friday, February 2, 2024. The Go Red for Women movement will celebrate its impact locally at the Anchorage Go Red for Women Luncheon on February 16, 2024, and Fairbanks Go Red for Women Luncheon on March 1, 2024. Go Red for Women is nationally sponsored by CVS Health and locally in Anchorage presented by Providence Alaska and supported by Alaska Heart & Vascular Institute.
About Go Red for Women®
The American Heart Association’s signature initiative, Go Red for Women®, is a comprehensive platform designed to increase women’s heart health awareness and serve as a catalyst for change to improve the lives of women globally. While the majority of cardiac events can be prevented, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, claiming the lives of 1 in 3 women. For 20 years, Go Red for Women has encouraged awareness. The movement harnesses the energy, passion and power of women to band together and collectively wipe out heart disease. It challenges them to know their risk for heart disease and take action to reduce their personal risk. It also gives them tools they need to lead a heart healthy life. The Go Red for Women movement is nationally sponsored by CVS Health, with additional support from national cause supporters. For more information, please visit GoRedforWomen.org or call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)
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 a century. During 2024 - our Centennial year - we celebrate our rich 100-year history and accomplishments. As we forge ahead into our second century of bold discovery and impact our vision is to advance health and hope for everyone, everywhere. Connect with the American Heart Association in Alaska on heart.org/Alaska, Facebook, Instagram, X or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.
For media inquiries:
Lily Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)