ACC Celebrates American Heart Month; Announces “I am CardioSmart” Winner

ACC kicked-off February, American Heart Month, by announcing the “I am CardioSmart” winner.

CardioSmart, ACC’s patient education and support program, established the annual “I am CardioSmart” contest to put a spotlight on individuals living well with specific heart disease conditions: congenital heart defect (CHD), heart failure, atrial fibrillation, heart attack, coronary artery disease and/or stroke.

Now in its fifth year, four finalists were chosen in the fall and featured on CardioSmart’s Facebook page. A vote on the most inspirational story was held on Facebook, and Jacob Burris of Eugene, OR, was selected as the overall winner.

Jacob Burris – Winner

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In May of 2014, 12-year-old Burris was undergoing a routine checkup when his doctor discovered that he had high blood pressure along with a heart murmur. Follow-up tests at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at the Oregon Health and Science University revealed that Burris had coarctation of the aorta.

Surgery to repair the kink with a stent was scheduled for July 2014, but Burris’ doctors discovered that there was more than a kink causing problems for his heart. The aorta was nearly disconnected and would have to be surgically repaired. Burris underwent heart surgery the following September. The pediatric cardiac surgical team successfully grafted a carbon tube in place of the disconnected portion of his aorta.

“Now I’m called ‘The Bionic Boy,’” Burris says. “I connect to people by sharing my story. Since I’m a CHD survivor, I believe I have a responsibility to help others with CHD.”

Through his advocacy work, Burris has met CHD survivors all over the world. He and his family created a website,, to tell his story and increase awareness about CHDs and the importance of monitoring one’s blood pressure.

Now 14, Burris has incorporated living CardioSmart into his everyday routine. An honor roll student, he plays baseball and participates in numerous heart health awareness events and programs.

“My motto is ‘Just Be Amazing,’” he says, “because I think it would just be amazing if we could cure all CHDs.”

Burris will be honored as the “I am CardioSmart” winner during ACC.17.

Allison Jamison – Finalist

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When Allison Jamison was just five years old, her cholesterol level was an unbelievable 800. She had inherited familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), which both her father and grandfather had.

“I was immediately put on medication, and our family modified our diets,” Jamison explains. “A few years later, I was also diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve. We later learned that I had a different kind of FH than my father or grandfather, called homozygous FH (HoFH). I had inherited two genes for high cholesterol, one from each of my parents.”

“I watched my diet and was physically active from a young age. I took an active role in my health care, even as a teenager,” she adds. “I was educated about HoFH so I could talk about my disease and explain why I needed aggressive treatment. I regularly saw my cardiologist who managed my medication and monitored my valve.”

At 28, Jamison had a single bypass and an aortic valve replacement at Heart Hospital of Austin in Austin, TX. Her first child was born prematurely shortly after. She continued to stay active and carefully monitor her health as her family grew. In 2011, a routine stress echocardiogram at her doctor’s office became a life-threatening emergency for Jamison.

“As I stepped off the treadmill, my heart suddenly stopped,” she said. “The staff used defibrillator paddles to save my life. I was found to have a 99 percent blockage in my right coronary artery and a failing mitral valve. Three days later, I had a second bypass surgery and a mitral valve replacement at Jewish Hospital East in Louisville. I was 35 years old.”

Currently, Jamison works with the FH Foundation to spread awareness about FH and provide support and education for those who have the genetic condition. Jamison says her personal motto is “life is what you make it.”

“Yes, my family has a genetic disease that makes all of us susceptible to dangerous heart disease,” she says. “But, by being proactive and keeping a positive attitude, my family and I live a full and happy life.”

Phillip Cartozian – Finalist

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In 1993, Phillip Cartozian, rancher and former Marine, had two massive heart attacks that immediately resulted in losing 70 percent of his heart. He was rushed to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center where Hillel Laks, MD, FACC, and his team performed a quintuple bypass.

After this alarming incident, Cartozian managed his heart health with an implanted defibrillator, medications, and a diet of fruit, vegetables and fish. This worked for about twelve years, until Cartozian noticed that his heart was getting weaker.

“My ejection fraction was getting low, and the doctors prescribed more medications to assist my heart and to alleviate the stress on my heart. My new normal blood pressure was 90/70, and my lungs would fill with fluid on a regular basis – which was terrifying at times,” he said. “I wasn’t able to catch my breath and felt like I was drowning. My ejection fraction dropped to below 20.” 

In 2013, Cartozian was visiting his ranch when his heart stopped. His defibrillator, implanted 20 years before, saved his life. Although the defibrillator did its job, Cartozian soon felt his health deteriorating rapidly. After nine emergency room visits, Laks told Cartozian that it was time for a heart transplant.

Cartozian no longer needs a defibrillator or blood thinners and said he is free of high blood pressure, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease. “I have been given the best gift of all, a new heart and life, and every day I thank God for this chance and mostly for all the doctors and nursing staff who have taken care of me,” he said. “I owe everything to and give my utmost appreciation once again to all the staff at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Cardiovascular Consultants Medical Group of Encino.”

Roxanne Watson – Finalist

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After suffering what she thought was an “annoying pain” in her back for six weeks, Roxanne Watson went to the emergency room to discover that she’d had a heart attack without even realizing it.

“I thought I had pulled a muscle,” Watson says. It was six weeks before she went to the emergency room at Nyack Hospital. “After a few tests, I was told I had had a heart attack. I was shocked. I had suffered a silent heart attack.” 

Watson was immediately placed in cardiac care and began monthly – and sometimes weekly – visits to a local cardiac group for extensive care. Her heart health did not improve, so in 2008 she was sent to Montefiore Medical Center in New York for evaluation. After nine days of evaluation from 16 doctors, Watson heard another shocker: she needed a heart transplant. 

Although Watson did not need a new heart immediately, her health did decline as she waited; in April 2010 she weighed just 95 pounds. At that point she was admitted to begin the final wait for a heart. After three mismatches, Watson’s new heart came to her in July 2010. Watson got back on her feet and started advocating for heart health just nine days after her surgery.

“I did my first public event for National Minority Organ Donor Awareness Week, and I was off and running,” she says. “I found it useful to others and myself to share my story to help others. I started doing that everywhere: TV news, talk shows, newspapers, magazines – wherever I could share, I did.” 

To learn more about the “I am CardioSmart” contest and to see past winners and finalists, visit

Clinical Topics: Arrhythmias and Clinical EP, Cardiac Surgery, Congenital Heart Disease and Pediatric Cardiology, Dyslipidemia, Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathies, Invasive Cardiovascular Angiography and Intervention, Prevention, Valvular Heart Disease, Atherosclerotic Disease (CAD/PAD), Implantable Devices, SCD/Ventricular Arrhythmias, Atrial Fibrillation/Supraventricular Arrhythmias, Aortic Surgery, Cardiac Surgery and Arrhythmias, Cardiac Surgery and CHD and Pediatrics, Cardiac Surgery and Heart Failure, Cardiac Surgery and VHD, Congenital Heart Disease, CHD and Pediatrics and Arrhythmias, CHD and Pediatrics and Interventions, CHD and Pediatrics and Prevention, CHD and Pediatrics and Quality Improvement, Lipid Metabolism, Nonstatins, Primary Hyperlipidemia, Acute Heart Failure, Heart Transplant, Interventions and Coronary Artery Disease, Interventions and Structural Heart Disease, Diet, Hypertension

Keywords: Aorta, Aortic Coarctation, Aortic Valve, Atrial Fibrillation, Bionics, Blood Pressure, Carbon, Child, Cholesterol, Consultants, Coronary Artery Disease, Defibrillators, Diet, Emergency Service, Hospital, Follow-Up Studies, Heart Defects, Congenital, Heart Failure, Heart Murmurs, Heart Transplantation, Heart Valve Diseases, Hyperlipoproteinemia Type II, Hypertension, Mitral Valve, Myocardial Infarction, Nursing Staff, Stents, Stroke

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