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American Heart Association CEO Announces Retirement

DALLAS, July 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- M. Cass Wheeler, the chief executive officer of the American Heart Association, the nation's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to heart disease and stroke, has announced that he will retire at the end of 2008.

Wheeler, who began his career with the association in 1973 at the former Texas Affiliate in Austin, said the coming months will be bittersweet as he prepares to leave the organization he has served for 35 years.

"It has been a true privilege for me to work with so many wonderful individuals in the non-profit sector who have a passion for our cause. We've seen huge progress in the fight against heart disease and stroke over the last few decades," he said.

Wheeler, who moved to the association's National Center in Dallas in 1982, has been CEO since 1997.

Under Wheeler's leadership, the American Heart Association improved its efficiency and effectiveness by merging its 56 state and metropolitan affiliates into eight regional affiliates and adopted a single corporate structure. It also approved a far-reaching health-impact goal calling for the reduction of coronary heart disease, stroke and risk by 25 percent by 2010. The coronary heart disease portion of this goal was achieved this year, two years ahead of time.

During Wheeler's 11-year tenure as CEO, the organization has experienced its greatest period of financial growth and made many significant advances, including:

-- Creating the American Stroke Association as a division of the American Heart Association.

-- Launching four cause initiatives: Go Red For Women, a heart disease awareness campaign for women; Power To End Stroke, a stroke awareness and prevention campaign for African Americans; Start!, a workplace walking program that promotes employee fitness; and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership with the Clinton Foundation to fight the childhood obesity epidemic.

-- Introducing quality of care initiatives such as Get With The Guidelines, which encourages hospitals to improve care and outcomes for heart and stroke patients by following scientifically proven treatments and guidelines; and Mission: Lifeline, a program to improve treatment for people suffering the most serious type of heart attack.

-- Collaborating with the Joint Commission of Healthcare Organizations to develop a Primary Stroke Center Certification program, and with the National Committee for Quality Assurance to develop a quality recognition program for doctors and hospitals.

-- Expanding awareness and positioning efforts, including the association's first paid advertising and Ad Council campaigns and major partnerships such as that with Parade magazine on "The Year of the Heart."

-- Developing new science that's the foundation of many programs and initiatives, and launching several strategically focused research programs.

-- Continuing to enhance its reputation in advocacy, with many successes in clean indoor air efforts, tobacco excise taxes and a renewed focus on improving access to care.

"Cass has been an extraordinary CEO for the American Heart Association who has taken our organization to new heights in many areas," said David Josserand, the association's chairman of the board. "While we are disappointed about the AHA's loss, we also share Cass' excitement about the next phase of his life."

Wheeler has been influential within the nonprofit and social sector. He serves on the boards of Partnership for Prevention, National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids and has previously served on the boards of Research America, Independent Sector and the National Health Council. He is the chair of the Key Philanthropic Organizations Committee for the American Society of Association Executives, is on the Advisory Council of the Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research, and the Advisory Council for Campaign for Public Health. In January 2008, he was appointed to serve on the Advisory Committee to the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wheeler's leadership in the nonprofit arena includes a role as co-convener of the Panel on the Non Profit Sector, an independent national panel established at the request of the Senate Finance Committee to consider and recommend actions that will strengthen good governance, ethical conduct and effective practice of public charities and private foundations.

He also served on the President's Commission on Improving Economic Opportunity in Communities Dependent on Tobacco Production While Protecting Public Health.

The American Heart Association's Board of Directors is beginning its search for Wheeler's successor and hopes to make a decision by October.

About the American Heart Association

Founded in 1924, the American Heart Association today is the nation's oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. These diseases, America's No. 1 and No. 3 killers, and all other cardiovascular diseases claim nearly 870,000 lives a year. In fiscal year 2006-07 the association invested more than $554 million in research, professional and public education, advocacy and community service programs to help all Americans live longer, healthier lives. To learn more, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visit

SOURCE American Heart Association
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