They say we only have one heart. Some of us are lucky enough to know someone who got a second heart. My family has been supporting the American Heart Association since 1994 when my cousin Emma became the first infant in MN to receive a heart transplant. Sadly she passed at the age of three. Her short life strengthened our desire to support the AHA. As a little girl I participated in Jump rope for heart and took CPR classes with my Girl Scout troop.
In February 2002 my world was turned upside down, my Father went into congestive heart failure. His heart was just fluttering. We almost lost him. I can’t imagine life without my Daddy and I am thankful to his care team. If there is no research lives are lost, research saves lives. Research gives men the chance to hold their granddaughters. He is a survivor and because of him I advocate for a better day. A day where research is no longer needed because we have a cure.
In on brief moment I became the very survivor I was advocating for. I had a stroke when I was 26 years old, 5 days before my 27th birthday. If it wasn’t for my care team I would have had a funeral instead of a birthday party. Because of them I am a live and I want to give everyone the chance to blow out one more candle. Heart disease and stroke are killing more woman than any other disease. Many don’t even know they are sick until it’s too late. In 2009 I got the best birthday present and that was life.
Life will never be the same. I had nowhere to turn for information after I had my stroke. All the websites were for the elderly and not a young 26-year-old professional. I needed information; I needed to put a “why” before the word stroke and to figure out how to live the healthiest life possible. The AHA’s website was a wealth of knowledge and tips for heart healthy living. The website became my guide and when I was strong enough I wanted to give back to the organization that supported me. I wanted to share my story and help those in my community be heart healthy.
I participated in my first MN Heart on the Hill day in 2011 and shared my story with state legislators and representatives. Each person I met that day was surprise to find out that I was a survivor, not only was I a survivor, I was a stroke survivor. Most people think of the elderly when they hear the words “stroke survivor” I am creating a new image and changing the face of stroke. Sharing my story allows me to raise awareness for the need to implement the Stroke Systems of Care and educate my community on the warning signs of stroke. It allows me to advocate for legislation that will create heart healthy communities and save lives.
Mostly I advocate for a little girl who never got the chance to grow up. Emma graced this earth for three beautiful years and because of her short life, lives are being saved. Someone so great deserves to have her legacy shared and shouted from the roof tops. I owe my surviving heart to that little girl and will continue to fight for the tomorrows she never got to see.