Thursday, August 1, 2013

Appreciating the Hard Things in Life

Just two weeks ago, I found myself staring out into a sea of faces at a Go Red for Women Leadership Breakfast. Asked to present my personal story of heart disease, I stood at the microphone summoning courage and a clear, steady voice. As many of you know, my journey with cardiovascular disease has been a long one, filled with the many u-turns, side trips, and pitfalls of a classic adventure. Here is a snippet of what I shared: 

 Time is a funny thing though. With enough of it and the right resources, researchers can do pretty amazing things. Less than fifty years ago surgeons successfully transplanted the first heart. Now over 3000 hearts are transplanted each year, extending and improving the quality of life for recipients. A dear friend of mine’s sister received a new heart just last week, saving her life. The cardiac bypass machine was invented, keeping people like myself alive during critical procedures. Surgeries involving artificial valves, stents, and defibrillators have become common, changing the impact of heart disease for millions. 

If only there was enough time and resources, imagine the work we could accomplish. And that is why I am here today, asking you to support the mission of the American Heart Association.  

When I visit specialists as I have done now for seven years, I am often reminded my case is unique and research is limited. At first I accepted this answer but now I question what is being done to remedy the situation. If the case studies are limited then it seems more research is warranted. Women currently account for only 25% of heart-related research studies, yet one in three women will be diagnosed with heart disease in her lifetime. Heart disease stopped being our father’s or grandfather’s disease a long time ago. It has become everyone’s disease and will become our children’s epidemic if we do not continue to look for answers.  

I have always considered myself to be a goal-driven person, even as a young child. But when you find out you are sick, and I mean really sick, your goals and dreams have to change. You have to let go of some and create new ones. I want to share just one of my dreams with you today. I want to be there to watch all of our children walk across the stage at their graduations. The first one will take place next year, but the last is seven years from now. This is a goal-in –progress, and there is work to be done. 

One of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton, writes about the importance of doing hard things. I believe in this. I believe we can all do hard things like bravely sharing our stories in hopes that you will be compelled to do hard things too, whether that is to contribute resources or advocate for research. I am asking a brutal and beautiful thing of you today. Help save my life so that I can be part of my children’s lives.  

            I thought it would be difficult to share my story but really, it turned out to be a privilege. By sharing my journey, I found myself in a position to advocate for a positive change, more resources, and new and/or continued research. What could be better than that? Sometimes we have to look for the silver lining, even in the darkest of clouds. It has been a long road but perhaps, I am beginning to better appreciate my battle and my scars. Thank you for helping me do hard things.


  1. Karen, you've been through so much already in your young life. I admire you greatly for your strength! And not to mention your writing ability, your personality, etc. You're just awesome to be around!

  2. Thank you so much, Becky. I appreciate your kind words. I think you made me blush! You are pretty great too, especially those fantastic one-liners you come up with! I missed you at lunch after our last meeting. Hopefully you can come next time!