Matters of the Heart: Kaela Gedda

 

The American Heart Association (AHA) is dedicated to building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. The progress made toward this mission is especially important to Kaela Gedda, both personally and professionally.

 

Gedda is the corporate events director for the American Heart Association in the Greater Green Bay area. The almost 26-year-old is also a two-time stroke survivor.

 

Gedda had her first stroke at age 19. A freshman at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Gedda was staying at her parents’ home in Green Bay over Easter weekend. After a busy week with exams, papers due and working extra hours, Gedda felt stressed. She woke up Saturday morning and her arm felt like it was still sleeping. She dismissed it, convinced she slept on it funny. When styling her hair, the brush fell out of her hand. Gedda blamed herself for being clumsy.

 

Over the next few hours, Gedda didn’t feel like herself. Exhausted, she drank half a cup of coffee. At work, she felt like she tripped and face-planted onto the floor, only to open her eyes and realize she was still standing. Gedda needed to lean on the wall to walk across the room. It felt like her blood was jumping around inside her body. By noon she agreed to go to the emergency room.

 

“I was in the car laughing; I didn’t know it was serious,” says Gedda. Initial tests didn’t reveal any cause for alarm. By 7 p.m., Gedda was extremely hungry and anxious to go home. She agreed to one more test.

 

“They did an MRI and they saw I had a stroke. Then things happened very fast. The nurses and doctors were rushing around. I didn’t even know what was happening,” adds Gedda. “When you have a stroke, it is important you go to the hospital immediately. I should have been in an ambulance when I woke up.”

 

When doctors realized Gedda had a stroke, the challenge was to prevent another one. Gedda describes the next seven months as the longest of her life — countless doctor visits and tests. They discovered Gedda had a hole in her heart, a congenital birth defect, and it was closed. She explains, “The hole in my heart was just a pathway for the blood clot. It wasn’t the cause.”

 

Just over three years later, Gedda had a mini stroke at age 22. She explains the symptoms were the same as before, although less severe.

“It was a Saturday night and I was signed up to run my first 5k the next Sunday. I asked the doctors if I could do it. They said if I was feeling okay then to go ahead,” says Gedda. “I’m so glad I did, because that proved to me I don’t have to be scared to live my life. I can do the things I want to do.”

 

An active interest in AHA

Gedda graduated from St. Norbert College with a degree in English and communications and media studies. While in college, she was a grassroots advocacy intern for the American Heart Association, working in Washington, D.C. for a few months. She served as an active volunteer for AHA for six years before becoming the Green Bay corporate events director in Sept. 2014.

 

“My personal experience with heart disease and stroke is what led me to a career with AHA. It is important to me that the work I do every day aligns with my passions and my talents. This is a perfect fit for me to exercise both of those,” says Gedda. Gedda is responsible for managing three local events: Heart & Stroke Ball, Go Red for Women Luncheon and the Heart & Stroke Walk. Her mission is to raise awareness and to raise funds. Her territory goal is $155,000. She adds, “My end goal is to ensure each guest who leaves an AHA event is inspired not only to make a healthy change in their own lives, but to pay it forward and encourage someone else to make one too.”

 

Making a difference

A typical day for Gedda includes meetings with community members — key volunteers, survivors and sponsors — and planning events. While new to event planning, Gedda has a gift to stay calm in the eye of the storm. In addition to the three events, Gedda is excited to work on other American Heart Association initiatives.

 

One is CPR training in the community. Currently 27 states have legislation mandating high school graduates are trained in CPR. AHA is pushing for a law to require the training in the state of Wisconsin. “CPR can triple the chances of a cardiac arrest victim’s survival,” says Gedda. “Right now, we only have an 11 percent survival from cardiac arrest. We have teamed up with healthcare professionals to set a goal

and train high school graduates and many community members on this life-saving skill.”

 

Also, as part of the Go Red for Women Luncheon, Gedda launched a Go Red Challenge in early 2016. Five women will be selected in February to participate in a 12-week lifestyle makeover — a challenge that could save lives. “I’m extremely excited about the challenge

because it is grassroots work that is bound to make a large impact,” adds Gedda.

 

And, the work of AHA has been making a dramatic impact across the country. Gedda explains heart disease has long been the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., but it will soon move to No. 2 as cancer takes the top spot. “We have a campaign right now called, ‘Get 1 Done.’ We want to be done with No. 1. By falling to second, it means the heart disease research, education and advocacy efforts we are doing is making a difference,” says Gedda.

 

A look ahead

When asked to look to her future, Gedda believes the next five to 10 years will bring good health and new challenges. She says, “I know that my passion for helping others achieve their goals and be their best self will bring me exactly where I’m meant to be.”

 

Gedda explains her own heart will require continued monitoring. A year ago, a device, like an internal recorder, was inserted under Gedda’s skin to determine if she is having atrial fibrillation (AFib). The device will monitor her for three years. In 2015, she had three suspicious activity readings although doctors haven’t ruled them to be AFib. The cause of her strokes continues to be unknown.

 

Every two or three years Gedda undergoes a series of tests in hopes of uncovering something not yet detected and finding answers. She recently began this process again.

 

While most people would panic with every heart flutter or odd feeling, Gedda explains she doesn’t live in fear, although she admits to pinching her arm every night to ensure she isn’t having a stroke. She tries to focus her energy on what she can control: eating right, exercising and having faith.

 

Gedda reveals when she had her first stroke, her mom came to the hospital with a ring. The outside was engraved with the word “faith” and the inside band read, “Live by faith, not by fear.” Gedda concludes, “You can choose to live with faith or live with fear and that will determine how you go about your day, and your life.” w

 

 

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