0702-Feature-Meritorious Pegui and Bert_Blog

Fourteen years ago, Bert Scott lost his wife Kathleen to an aneurysm when she was just 52.

“It happened on a Friday, and she was gone on Saturday,” Scott said.

Years before, his dad died of a heart attack, also at age 52.

Scott’s wife and his dad are the reasons he’s passionate about “Life is Why,” the American Heart Association campaign focusing on the idea that people should be healthier so they can enjoy their lives more.

Scott and Pegui Mariduena, both volunteers on the American Heart Association committee that oversaw the creation of the campaign, were honored recently for those efforts with the AHA’s Meritorious Achievement award.

Although the American Heart Association uses a wide range of tactics to fight heart disease and stroke, the world’s leading killers, Life is Why can be attached to every facet of the organization’s work. It’s a way to remind everyone that they have a reason to believe in a healthy life that’s free of heart disease and stroke.

“Everybody has a ‘Why,’” said Scott, chairman of the AHA Communications Coordinating Committee and senior vice president of population health at Novant Health. “Everyone comes with their own stories, beliefs and personal impact. Life is Why creates a connection and elicits an emotional response. Your why might be family or research — it could be many things.”

Whether it’s a consumer seeking reliable information or a researcher looking for grant money, “all of them are bringing to the table their why, and we need to be able to address it,” he said.

Mariduena, president of StarMar Consulting in Alpharetta, Georgia, said when she started volunteering with the American Heart Association five years ago she didn’t think she had a family history of heart disease or stroke.

“In my journey I have discovered that I am typical of many Latino individuals,” said Mariduena, whose family is from South America. “Our medical histories are often not shared or known.”

When she delved into her family tree, she found out, for example, that her father had peripheral artery disease. That led to the discovery of more health histories, including the fact that several family members had strokes.

Mariduena has long been the educator in her family. Her children grew up with a focus on healthy nutrition and exercise (“no Cheetos in the house — much to their dismay”). And when her dad visits and they go to the grocery store, “he puts unhealthy foods into the cart and I take it all out.”

Mariduena is passionate about making sure Life is Why reaches diverse populations.

“Multicultural communities are the sickest, unhealthiest, poorest populations in the U.S. Unfortunately, their everyday worries are more about safety and security than healthy lifestyles, diet and nutrition,” she said. “I’m passionate about being an advocate for communities of color. There’s a great need to raise awareness and educate about cardiovascular disease and stroke — to make it possible for all people to live healthier, longer lives. That’s my Why.”

Mariduena said that it was important that Life is Why campaign reflected the idea that everyone is included in the American Heart Association’s goal to save more lives.

“We want multicultural families to see themselves in everything we do, and that through our research, events, programs and education the AHA is doing its part in ensuring that we’re tackling the challenges of all families,” she said.