By Rich Buckley and Deanna Messinger

Approximately every 40 seconds someone in the United States dies of cardiovascular disease. In Erie County, that rate is even higher with residents experiencing 33 percent more heart disease death than the average American, making it the leading cause of death in Erie County. These alarming statistics from the American Heart Association and the 2017-2019 Erie County, NY Community Health Assessment highlight the importance of finding innovative ways to address this devastating disease.

The AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation is committed to doing just that. The AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation’s Connections for Cardiovascular HealthSM (CCH) program was launched in 2010 and has awarded nearly $23 million to 52 organizations across the country to help improve cardiovascular health in their communities.

Mercy Hospital Foundation is one of those organizations. The Heart Smart for Life program, offered at the Mercy Comprehensive Care Center (MCCC) on Louisiana Street, has helped ensure vulnerable populations at risk for cardiovascular disease in Buffalo have access to nutrition education, free health screenings, wellness programs, and other resources focused on preventing heart disease. Through funding received from CCH, Mercy Hospital Foundation has integrated the Heart Smart for Life program into the primary care services at the MCCC and into the discharge process for cardiovascular and stroke patients at Mercy Hospital.

Individuals who participate in the Heart Smart for Life program learn how to read food labels to help them make healthier choices, cook healthy meals, and participate in chair yoga to help improve their fitness, among other activities. The men and women participating in the program have made improvements in their heart health, including losing weight, reducing their body mass index (BMI) and lowering their blood pressure.

Five additional CCH Grant Awardees from across the country visited MCCC recently to see how the program is successfully addressing cardiovascular disease in one of Buffalo’s poorest communities. The visit was part of a Mentor-Mentee Learning Forum co-hosted by Mercy Hospital Foundation and the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation to help nonprofit organizations facing similar regional challenges advance efforts to improve heart health in their communities. The organizations were able to observe a Heart Smart for Life class during the Forum and participate in workshops to learn how to enhance and sustain their programs.

They also heard stories from program participants, including Mary who lost more than 30 pounds, lowered her blood pressure and BMI and now serves as a Heart Smart Ambassador and mentor to help other participants. Another participant started making conscious choices about his eating habits – only having two slices of pizza instead of three. And another participant heard about Heart Smart for Life at her local community center, regularly attends classes and now brings friends to help them improve their heart health while learning and exercising together.

These program participant stories are just a few that highlight the difference Mercy Hospital Foundation and the CCH program have made to help improve heart health. For more information about the Heart Smart for Life program, visit or call (716) 923-6152.

Rich Buckley is Board President of AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation and Deanna Messinger is Executive Director of Mercy Hospital Foundation.