ZEBULON — As a heart disease survivor who had open-heart surgery at age 2, it isn’t terribly surprising Yolanda Dickerson became an advocate for the American Heart Association as an adult.
But it was an outright shock for the Zebulon resident, now 39, when she learned earlier this year she had been chosen from among four candidates nationwide for the American Heart Association’s Survivor Advocate of the Year award.
“No one was more surprised than I was,” Dickerson said. “We do an annual Lobby Day here in Raleigh, and a biannual national lobby in (Washington) D.C. I was on a charter bus coming back from the (N.C.) General Assembly when I found out and I was like, “What?”
Following the state “You’re the Cure” Lobby Day on Feb. 26, Dickerson traveled to Washington, D.C., where she was honored at the association’s congressional lobby event on April 9.
“She’s a born leader and just really gives of herself,” Sloan Garner, an AHA spokesperson, said of Dickerson. “She is really a pretty amazing person and we are really excited and pleased for her.”
Dickerson’s work with the association began as a way to honor her mother and has grown since the birth of her daughter, who is now 12 years old. Despite being actively involved with the AHA for the last 11 years, Dickerson said the award wasn’t about her.
“Since God allowed me to live through surgery at such a young age, I feel like it’s my responsibility to go out and help other people,” she said. “It is about all the people – my (family), every volunteer, every survivor. It’s about what all those people pour into me and what I’m able to do with it.”
The annual award is given to a heart disease or stroke survivor who has gone above and beyond for the AHA in advocating for federal and state policy priorities, according to the association, and the recipient has actively participated events and strongly advocated for heart and stroke issues.
Dickerson met that criteria. She got her start like many people who participate in advocacy events – on a company Heart Walk team – but said she was plucked from that group by AHA officials and asked to become a public speaker for the organization.
“Betsy Vetter, the director of government relations for the N.C. AHA, told me I was going to speak to Congress eight or nine years ago,” Dickerson said. “I’ve been doing that ever since.
“I went from being one in the crowd to being the chair of the N.C. American Heart Association Advocacy Coordinating Committee Executive Board.”
Dickerson has held that title since 2011. She also leads the state advocacy volunteer initiative and created the model for the state “You’re The Cure” Lobby Day, speaks to area youth, and has represented the AHA at the White House Community Leaders’ Briefing and the N.C. Governor’s Summit for health issues.
While her involvement with the AHA sounds like a full-time position, Dickerson makes her living as a medical claims analyst for an anesthesiology management company and as an independent manuscript editor. She is also the PTSA president for Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy.