By Hailey Kurtenbach
Celebrating February’s observance of American Heart Month, we connected with a nonprofit leader working at the heart of fighting heart disease and stroke in Hawai‛i. Glaiza Kamano, Executive Director of the American Heart Association - Hawai‛i Division, shared with us what fuels her personal commitment to heart health education and programming, in addition to all the heart-pumping community initiatives and events in store for her organization in 2023.
You’ve served the American Heart Association for several years before leading the Hawai‛i Division. What first brought you to the organization, and why do you continue to invest in its mission?
A few of my friends had shared about their volunteer work with the American Heart Association in California and I was so inspired by how deeply rooted the organization was in the community. I soon learned about the local O‛ahu Heart Walk and was just as amazed by how much impactful work the Association was doing in our islands and nationally.
So many of us have been impacted by heart disease and stroke, and for me personally, my reason for being so invested is because of my family and my community. I recently lost my father in-law from illnesses, inclusive of heart disease and as he was a Native Hawaiian who grew up on O‛ahu, it was difficult for me to see how socio-economic inequities played a role in how he lived his life.
We’ve seen firsthand how people suffer when they lack access to quality healthcare, nutritious food, health education and basic health care needs. Here in Hawai‛i, life expectancy can differ by as much as 12 years among people just living 5 miles apart. There’s so much more research and work to be done to ensure our families can make more memories together.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in Hawai‛i and the U.S. What key efforts is the Association focusing on to expand prevention and promote healthy lifestyle changes?
The Association is working with volunteer college nursing students from Hawai‛i Pacific University, Chaminade University and the University of Hawai‛i-Hilo to monitor blood pressure and educate at-risk residents on O‛ahu’s Leeward Coast on lifestyle changes they can make to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease and improve their health.
Also, about 1 in 3 adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders experiencing higher rates of mortality related to heart disease. We are working with federally-qualified outpatient clinics and community partners in historically under-resourced areas to better aid individuals managing high blood pressure. Our goal is to reach a 70% (or higher) blood pressure control rate.
Legacy Leaders nursing students providing helath education in Leeward O‛ahu
Our Kids Heart Challenge and American Heart Challenge programs are one of the largest youth activities in the state. Last fiscal year, about 56,144 students in Hawaiʻi participated in the Association’s school-based programs. Students learn physical, social and emotional skills that last a lifetime.
Since the onset of the pandemic, nutrition insecurity has increased substantially. Now 1 in 6 Hawaiʻi residents are food and nutrition insecure, including 90,000 children. We are helping to tackle that issue by increasing access to healthy foods in the community in several ways.
First by screening and referring individuals facing food insecurity to sustainable food sources like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC Nutrition Program - Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
We’ve also partnered with Hawaiian Airlines and its employees to promote a nutritional food drive to benefit Hawaii’s food banks statewide. The Association provided its science-based food donation guidance to Hawaiian Airlines employees and the public to encourage nutritious food donations for food bank clients.
And we are supporting policy efforts to secure county and state funding to expand and sustain Hawaii’s “Da Bux” programs that incentivize SNAP recipients’ purchase of fresh, locally-grown produce from farmers markets and retailers that accept the benefits.
Other policy efforts we’re supporting include regulating e-cigarette sales and restricting all flavored tobacco to reduce the tobacco industry’s ability to target our keiki with their highly addictive, and extremely health harmful products.
Take Down Tobacco Day at the State Capitol
And of course, as a leader in the development of CPR science, Hawaii training centers certified by the Association last year trained over 8,882 students and community members in Hawaiʻi to save a life using Hands-Only CPR.
More than 89,614 Hawaiʻi residents were treated in hospitals that implement the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines® programs that help to insure ensure they receive high quality care based on the latest science-based treatment best practices.
Every service we offer is based on the science we help to fund. The Association is second only to the federal government in funding cardiovascular research. Last year, we funded four grants in Hawai‛i. Nationally, we are collaborating with Pfizer and Gates Ventures to provide $20 million in groundbreaking research being led by 10 universities (including the University of Hawai‛i John A. Burns School of Medicine) and health care systems that is studying barriers that prevent people of diverse race and ethnicity, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, from being represented and included in clinical research trials. The goal is to identify best practices that ensure their full inclusion.
Those are just a few examples of how we are helping to improve the health of Hawai‛i communities.
What upcoming community events and initiatives are you most looking forward to in early 2023?
The Association will be celebrating its 100th year celebration in 2024 and so many of our amazing 2023 volunteer leaders are setting the foundation for another impactful 100 years as we enter our second century. We just celebrated our first in person Hawaii Heart Ball since February 2020 and it was so wonderful to be with our supporters and volunteers, including our current National American Heart Association Board Chairman Ray Vara, president, chief executive officer, Hawai’i Pacific Health. The event was re-imagined with a focused guest list of 300 attendees and held outside of Waikiki for the first time in its 45-year history.
February was our “superbowl” — American Heart Month, a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health and #betheBeat. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collaborated with the Association by launching his #3forheart™ CPR Challenge aimed at saving more lives through CPR education and training.
This August, we’re excited to celebrate the 2023 Hawai‛i Heart Walk, the Association’s premier fundraising event to promote physical activity and heart-healthy living. The Heart Walk creates an environment that's fun and rewarding for the entire ohana! We hope you can join us then! Information on the event and to register can be found at www.HIHeartWalk.org
American Heart Association's 2022 Hawai‛i Heart Walk
What are your favorite outdoor/physical activities that you enjoy for maintaining your heart health?
I personally love being outside and will opt to be outdoors rather than inside the gym on most days. I love hiking and long distance running. The first long distance run I participated in was The Hapalua, Hawai‛i’s Half Marathon, which transcended into my love for long distance races. And I just completed the San Francisco Hot Chocolate race.
How can community members get involved and support your organization?
To get information on how to live healthier and reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases people can start by going to our website at www.heart.org.
Check out our Hawai‛i website to see what local community activities and events are scheduled.
Call our Honolulu office at 808-377-6630 and our staff can answer questions or direct them to other ways to get the information they need.