“He was so purple, almost black. He felt like rubber,” Wilson recalled. “I saw his life flash before me: the day he was born, his first steps — and I saw him in a coffin.”
But because she quickly started CPR and resuscitated him, Kevin didn’t die. Wilson’s mom later told her, “’If there’s nothing else you do with your nursing degree, you’ve accomplished it.’”
In fact Wilson, the cardiovascular disease and stroke community outreach coordinator for the Seton Healthcare Family of hospitals, has gone on to do much more after becoming a registered nurse. And Kevin, now 30, was at his mother’s side last month when she received the American Heart Association’s Louis B. Russell, Jr., Memorial Award for her achievements in health equity and quality improvement.
Wilson has always wanted to help sick people get better, even before her dad gave her a nurse’s bag the Christmas she was 3. When she was 10, he’d drop her off at a local hospital on Saturdays so she could play with the kids who only spoke Spanish.
She wasn’t deterred from nursing a few years later when a high school counselor pushed her to try beauty school instead. “This was at a time you didn’t see many Hispanics going to college.”
Fast-forward a few decades, and Wilson’s warmth, enthusiasm and smarts have made her a valuable American Heart Association volunteer. She co-chairs the task force for Check. Change. Control., the association’s blood pressure management program, and she works with Native Americans at powwows featuring heart-health education and health screenings. Native Americans face a disproportionately high risk of heart disease and stroke.
Wilson’s also the spark behind many other efforts to help the association improve heart health in Texas communities. She has helped advocate for stroke systems of care, CPR in schools, smoke-free workplaces, cardiovascular disease prevention funding and many other legislative issues, all while keeping underserved communities in mind.
There are many parallels between her volunteer work and her hospital job.
“My director, Lori Stallings, recognizes the importance of not only spreading the word on signs and symptoms of stroke, but the importance of incorporating prevention,” said Wilson, who has been described as “a powerhouse of energy and effectiveness to spread the word to prevent heart attack and stroke.”
She talks to people throughout the state in English and Spanish on obesity, smoking and many other topics, with the goal of helping preventing heart attack and stroke. Part of this means overcoming barriers, sometimes big ones — like when people lack health insurance, live in an unhealthy environment or can’t get to the grocery store because they don’t have transportation or because children are unable to walk to school or ride their bikes because lack of sidewalks or unsafe streets.
“Most people have no idea that smoking increases blood glucose and cholesterol, and increases the chances for blood clots,” she said. Also vital: Learning what walking just 30 minutes a day does for your heart. “You can really see the light bulb go off of ‘I didn’t know walking could do all that.’”