History of the American Heart Association (AHA)

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Before the American Heart Association was organized, doctors and scientists didn’t know much about the causes and treatment of heart disease.  At first the AHA was a very small organization, but over the years it has evolved into a large corporation dedicated to providing research, education and resources, both nationally and internationally.

1. The beginning:

In 1915 a small group of doctors and social workers organized the Association for the Prevention and Relief of Heart Disease in New York City. They were concerned about the heart patients they saw. At that time, it was considered a hopeless disease – there wasn’t much that could be done for them.  They spent their days just resting. The association’s first project was a study to find out if heart patients could return to work safely.  In time other large cities such as San Jose started their own associations (San Jose AHA).

All the local groups joined together in 1924 to form the American Heart Association. Dr. Paul White stated that much work needed to be done. Gradually many more physicians and scientists joined the ranks and worked diligently for the cause.

2. The AHA reaches out to the public:

Toward the end of the 1930s and into the 1940s, the organization began to appeal to the public for monetary donations and volunteers.  In 1946 the first large donation was made by the American Legion for $50,000 to do research on rheumatic fever.  A large contingent of non-medical volunteers, who had skills in public education, business management, communications, fund raising and community resources, became part of AHA. Fund raising became a local San Jose and national effort and millions of dollars were collected.

3. Rapid growth of the American Heart Association:

The 1950s brought rapid growth focusing on fund raising and the use of medical and non-medical volunteers. Local affiliates were established all over the country.  These local groups provided research, community programs, fund raising and health education. Efforts were made to begin research and education on how heart disease and stroke affect women.

4. Technology influences the American Heart Association:

When computers and the internet became commonplace in the 1990s, the AHA was able to bring research results and information quickly to the public, to doctors and to pharmacists. Scientific journals were published online.  The association was now able to provide guidelines for prevention and treatment of heart disease and stroke.  They did have to deal with opposition from the tobacco industry, but they were eventually able to show definite links between smoking and disease.

5. The AHA mission is established:

In 1997 the AHA was reorganized into a single corporation.  Their mission statement advocates building healthier lives, free from cardiovascular disease and stroke.  This organization vowed to provide everyone with information, resources and guidelines to live a healthier life.

From a humble beginning of a small group of physicians who came together in 1915, the American Heart Association has faced challenges and changes.  Nevertheless, the organization has gradually evolved into a large nationwide association dedicated to providing accurate information about heart disease and stroke in order to treat and prevent these diseases.

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