By Michelle Rauch


The American Heart Association is a champion for community health and well-being. There exists a great need for mission outreach in Kentucky.

“When you look at a map of cardiovascular disease and stroke in the entire country, the stretch of Appalachia lights up red,” said AHA Community Impact Director, Natalie Littlefield. “Kentucky is currently among the highest rates in incidence of heart disease. We want to change that.”

For nearly 100 years, it has been the mission of the American Heart Assocation to heart disease and stroke, striving to save and improve lives. At the local level, the Lexington chapter is working to weave healthy living practices and opportunities into our community all across the state.



Shaping Our Appalachian Region, known as SOAR, is a network of Kentucky’s Appalachia that unites 54 counties worth of talent. SOAR’s mission is to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, innovation, and identity, improve the quality of life and support all those working to achieve these goals in Appalachian Kentucky. SOAR is a landscape-changing enterprise: shaped by a shared and envisioned future, driven by innovation, entrepreneurship, and a commitment to common purpose, with improved education, health, and economic outcomes, and expanding opportunities, for all citizens in the 54 counties that make up SOAR. 

Through SOAR, the American Heart Association is building partnerships on the local level. Connections and conversations are bringing smaller communities in the 54-county eastern Kentucky region to the table. The work is raising awareness about prevention, maintenance, control and self-monitoring, no matter how old you are. They are shining a light on the people living with dangerous conditions that are hiding in plain sight.

“Blood pressure is the silent killer. Heart disease is the silent killer. It is the number one killer overall for both males and females across the nation,” Littlefield explained. “You can walk around for a long time with high blood pressure and high cholesterol and not know it because you can’t see it from the outside. You may be symptom free up until the time you have a stroke or heart attack.”

SOAR is addressing the issues that are at the forefront in the region that are impacting heart health: specifically, the opioid epidemic. One big idea is reaching out to and working with the families impacted by opioid addiction. 

“We look at the public health perspective and ask: how does the impact of opioid user impact those around them who they love and how does that impact their health?” Littlefield added, “As opioid use increases, diseases of the heart increase with it. The opioid crisis poses a big problem for us.”

Though there are more connections to build and always more people to reach, the impact of SOAR has been evident from the get-go. “We’ve seen firsthand the impact that SOAR has on these communities,” Littlefield said. “We’re so excited about all the good work that’s been done already, and all that’s ahead.”


STEM Goes Red

STEM Goes Red is another heart health initiative. It’s empowering middle school aged girls to improve the heart and brain health of Americans through careers in science, technology, engineering and math. There is a clear need for more women in these field. According to the AHA, only 20% of cardiologists in this country are women. 

In the spring of 2019, the AHA will bring STEM Goes Red For Girls to London, Kentucky. The attendees will learn how their heart works, how nutrition impacts it and how creating healthy heart habits early in life will lead to a lifetime of healthy living. By empowering girls to explore careers in STEM, we can help address our region’s STEM workforce inequities and impact innovation and economic development.


“We are not in a health care culture that focuses on prevention. When you look at how we stack up to compared other countries, the disparity is clear,” Littlefield said. 

“I think when most people think of the Heart Association, they think of the research and the science and the technology that are funded through the AHA’s fundraising initiatives. I didn’t realize until I took this position how intentional our organization is about mission outreach and really working with communities and community champions to prioritize prevention and build healthier lives for all,” Littlefield said.

"I didn’t realize until I took this position how intentional our organization is about mission outreach and really working with communities and community champions to prioritize prevention and build healthier lives for all."

There is a belief that building healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke can and will happen in Kentucky. In time the map that lights up red will change for the better.

“Improving cardiovascular disease and stroke rates in our state is not going to happen overnight. It might happen very slowly,” Littlefield explained. “If we continue to do the work we are doing and make the partnerships we are making, we will be able to reverse those trends over time. That’s what we’re fighting for every day.” 


How You Can Get Involved

Donations to the American Heart Association help fund innovative research, advocacy, and patient support until no more loved are lost to heart disease and stroke. To give, visit or call 859.317.6883.

For the latest updates, follow the American Heart Assocation Lexington on Facebook: AHALexington


Save the Date

The Go Red for Women Experience: Thursday, November 8, 2018 at the Lexington Center/Heritage Hall - For more information, please contact Emily Blair at 859.368.4498 or [email protected]

The Lexington Heart Ball: Friday, February 1, 2019 at the Lexington Center Bluegrass Ballroom - For more information, please contact Mike Turner at 859.317.6878 or [email protected]

Central Kentucky Heart Walk: Saturday, May 11, 2019 at Keeneland Race Course - For more information contact Lisa Edwards at 859.317.6885 or [email protected]