For three decades, volunteer work has been close to Suzy Hughes’ heart.

Whether she’s educating fellow nurses or helping college women embrace heart-healthy lifestyles, Hughes has dedicated countless hours over the years to spreading the messages of the American Heart Association.

The nonprofit group is recognizing Hughes, 60, of Hudson, with its National Healthcare Volunteer of the Year award during its annual luncheon today in Dallas.

“I was just completely thrilled,” Hughes said. “It’s exciting for me because it’s something that has been such an important part of my life.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) honors one health-care volunteer each year from among its 225 offices nationwide.

Hughes was nominated by Alice Luse, regional director of the association’s Akron, Canton and Youngstown offices.

In her nomination form, Luse called Hughes a visionary who “is always thinking of new ways the AHA can educate the community about heart disease.”

“We’re lucky to have volunteers like Suzy,” Luse said. “I just really felt that Suzy’s accomplishments and dedication over a long period of time was so worthy of getting this award.”

Hughes has been heavily involved with the association’s local version of Go Red for Women, a campaign to educate women about the risks of cardiovascular disease.

As part of the campaign, Hughes developed a Coeds Go Red program to teach college-age women about the importance of eating healthy, staying active and avoiding tobacco to keep their hearts healthy.

In addition, Hughes worked with the University of Akron and Kent State University to launch a local version of My Life Check. The American Heart Association program encourages people to improve their lives by following these seven steps: Get active, eat better, lose weight, stop smoking, control cholesterol, manage blood pressure and reduce sugar.

She also has been a spokeswoman for the association and has talked about heart-related issues on local radio and television shows, as well as at area churches and community events.

“When you do public health,” she said, “you go where the people are.”

Throughout her 38-year career, Hughes has held numerous nursing jobs and leadership positions at hospitals throughout Northeast Ohio, including Akron General Medical Center, Summa Health System, Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna and the Cleveland Clinic.

Since 1997, she has been a member of the board of directors for the American Heart Association’s Akron office, which covers Portage and Summit counties.

Hughes currently works as clinical education project director for the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, a national nonprofit group that provides educational services and other support to nurses in the field.

Hughes has held other leadership roles on a national level in her field, including chairwoman of the American College of Cardiology’s nursing education committee from 2009 through 2011.

And her work is far from done.

So much has changed since she began working as a nurse in the cardiovascular field in the early 1970s, when patients were hospitalized for weeks instead of days after heart attacks.

Still, she said, the field is far from perfect.

When she recently accompanied her husband, Jim, to his 40th college reunion, one classmate was noticeably absent: Tim Russert.

The NBC News Washington bureau chief and moderator of Meet the Press died of a heart attack four years ago. He was 58.

“He suffered sudden cardiac death at his desk,” she said. “We still lose people at the prime of their life.

“ … Look at how much we still have to do. The heart association still has a tremendous amount of work to do.”

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.