0706 - Alexander Almazan

Alex Almazan has seen firsthand how your environment can affect what you eat.

There are low-income areas in his hometown of Miami where there are no grocery stores in sight —making it tough to find fresh fruit or vegetables, let alone eat them. And in such a multicultural city, some traditional diets are not always heart-healthy.

But Almazan is dedicated to changing that picture. In fact, for his work helping underserved communities get healthier, he was recently honored with the American Heart Association’s Louis B. Russell, Jr. Memorial award. An active volunteer, he wants to give people the tools to live longer, healthier lives.

“From government advocacy to educating people about good eating habits to teaching CPR, the entire mission of the American Heart Association is to extend your life,” he said. “The AHA does things every day that, because it’s primarily a science-based organization, sometimes get lost in the mix.”

Almazan, who began his involvement with the AHA as a Power To End Stroke ambassador, has worked as a passionate voice locally and nationally to bring the association’s messages to diverse populations.

Hispanics represent the fastest-growing population in the United States and are expected to make up 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. And although heart disease is the No. 1 killer, surveys show that Hispanics are much less aware of this danger and their risk factors than non-Hispanic whites.

Miami-Dade is a “minority-majority” county, where most of the AHA’s outreach efforts are aimed at Hispanics, African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans.

Almazan grew up in Miami, the son of Cuban immigrants. His mom and dad’s struggles have never been far from his mind. Determined to get an education, Almazan’s parents left Cuba in 1959 at age 14 to escape the rule of Fidel Castro.

“They busted their backs without a penny in their pockets to graduate from college,” he said.

Later, they made education a priority for their kids. They pinched pennies to put Almazan and his sister through private schools. Watching his parents, Almazan decided that failure wasn’t an option. At 12, he’d already decided to become a lawyer.

“As a young kid, the law seemed like a very good way to help others and try and make a difference,” said Almazan, who earned a scholarship to the University of Florida. “As I got older, I realized that’s not always possible.”

Today, Almazan does a variety of things to give back to the community. His law firm is 100-percent minority-owned and operated. Through the American Heart Association and other charities he’s committed to “truly trying to give back and make a difference.”

He recently got a harsh reminder about why it’s so important to make a difference in your health. He lost a close friend — so close he was like a grandfather to Almazan’s two young daughters. Everyone thought his friend was healthy. He played seven sets of tennis one day and died of a massive stroke the next day.

“It’s reality. Don’t make your death be a wake-up call for someone, and don’t allow somebody’s death be the wake-up call for you,” Almazan said.

His message for everyone, including his wife Danielle and their children, is to see your doctor and to learn how to take care of yourself. He doesn’t hesitate to share it.

“I’m a pretty blunt person, so day to day I will tell you, ‘you’re overweight; you eat poorly.’ Be around for those who love you. Don’t take your days for granted. Everyone knows someone who died too young. Don’t become that person.”