A passion to fight heart disease and stroke

BY RYLEE MURDOCH, Guest Columnist

Matters of the HeartST. PETERSBURG — Ronnell Montgomery is an inspiring woman who has used challenging events in her life as motivation to change other people’s lives for the better.

In 1998, when Montgomery was more than eight months pregnant, her father had his first of four heart attacks. While these were difficult times in her life, it was another devastating event that inspired her to take action: In 2011, the father of her daughter passed away from a heart attack at age 46.

“When you have a parent with heart disease and health issues, that’s one thing. When you know someone under 50 with no major health issues, who has a heart attack or stroke, that’s the wake-up call,” Montgomery said.

Lower Your Blood PressureShe began working at the James B. Sanderlin Center in 2004. One of the center’s areas of focus is health and wellness, so she created the first annual “Celebrate You” event with an inaugural theme that highlighted the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative. “Celebrate You” is specifically tailored to empower women and create awareness about health issues that often affect women.

Montgomery said that spreading awareness about cardiovascular diseases is crucial because young people often don’t believe that they could be victims until it happens to them.

After volunteering with the American Heart Association Tampa Bay for several years and serving as an ambassador for their Power to End Stroke initiative, Montgomery is now the chair of the organization’s Passion Committee. With her determination and energy, and the help of the community, she’s making a difference in Tampa Bay.

Q&A with Ronnell Montgomery

What is the Passion Committee?

The Passion Committee is part of the Go Red For Women campaign. It is a group of people who are passionate about their connection to heart disease and stroke. Through community events, we are able to share personal experiences and educational resources to make people more aware of risks and prevention when it comes to cardiovascular diseases.

What’s your biggest goal being the Passion Committee chair and knowing you can make a change? 

To make people more aware that heart disease and stroke can happen to people at a young age. That small lifestyle change can make a big difference. We want to teach people prevention, but we also want to teach them lifesaving information like Hands-Only™ CPR.

My involvement with the American Heart Association has made a difference in my health and when I talk to people, I remind them that they are in charge of their health. We can’t wait for the doctor to come to us. It’s our body. If we’re worried about something, we have to go get it checked.

You have a teenage daughter and a strong passion to have a positive impact on young women. What healthy habits would you encourage them to adopt? 

I try to incorporate my daughter into my positive habits like exercising and drinking the smoothies I make at home. I also involve her in educational sessions, conferences and events, like National Wear Red Day. On that day, she’ll wear red clothes with a red dress pin, and share the information with her friends.

What are some of the events that the 2014-2015 Passion Committee will be doing this year?

We’re already thinking ahead to Heart Month in February. We’re talking about making red blankets for babies born in February. When I went to the American Heart Association Heart Heroes Camp Boggy Creek send off at All Children’s Hospital, it was a strong reminder of how many children are affected by heart disease. It’s not an old person’s issue. We want to have a strong presence in the community this year, but to do that, we need more people to help.

How do you think being affected by heart disease or stroke can translate into change in the community?

After my daughter’s father passed away, our family participated in the American Heart Association Tampa Bay Heart Walk. The following year, the family started a foundation in his name and put together a walk in South St. Petersburg. The money that was raised went toward other community heart-related events. When something like heart disease affects your life, then you use it to help other people and make them more aware.

The American Heart Association recently launched a new anthem: Life is Why. What is your why?

My professional why is empowering women. I want to help them know as much as they can, and to help them have better lives. My personal why is my daughter. To be here for her. I didn’t think I’d be raising her alone without her father at 16.

For more information about the American Heart Association Tampa Bay: www.facebook.com/AHATampaBay, (727) 563-8083. To learn more about the Passion Committee, please contact Ronnell: rmontgomery_snfc@yahoo.com.

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