Last night I had the privilege of being asked to speak at the Executives with Heart Networking and Leadership Reception for the 2017 Greater Washington Region Heart Walk. For the past few years Mike and I have actively participated in, and fundraised for, the Congenital Heart walks (happening again spring of 2018) but this will be our first American Heart Association walk. Overall heart health, not just for myself, but for everyone, has really become a passion of mine. The American Heart Association is focused on being "healthy for good" and provides so many resources surrounding healthy eating, exercise, and mental health and clarity. Everything that the American Heart Association is supporting and advocating for could not resonate more with me.
Back to last night. I absolutely love to write and share my story in that medium, but over the past year I've begun to dip my toes into the arena of public speaking, I'm not going to lie - it still absolutely terrifies me. Until I really get to know someone I am a very shy person. And I am most certainly an introvert. Attention makes me very uncomfortable. For those of you who know me well, I always make every effort to severely downplay my heart. But I have been actively working to embrace my vulnerability and to open up and share - like all great risks, the risk is terrifying but the reward is beyond measure.
And so because people have asked (it still amazes me that people d0!), I am sharing the speech that I gave last night. But more importantly, I am sharing the link for the DiMaggio 2017 GWR Heart Walk team! I really hope you'll consider donating or even walking with us on the National Mall on Saturday, November 4th! Heart disease and stroke effect so many ~ think of the massive difference you can make!
Link to walk/donate (you may have to actually copy paste the link): http://www2.heart.org/site/TR/HeartWalk/MAA-MidAtlanticAffiliate?team_id=323927&pg=team&fr_id=2431
As always, thank you for sharing in this journey with me <3
~~ speech ~~
Good evening, everyone. My name is Kelly DiMaggio and I am a 28 year old woman living with Congenital Heart Disease. When I was born, my shell shocked parents were told that I had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) along with a myriad of other complications. In the simplest, albeit most dramatic sounding terms, I was born with essentially only half of a functioning heart. My mitral valve and left ventricle never developed. Without imminent intervention, HLHS proves to be fatal. Upon diagnosis, doctors told my parents that I had an estimated 24 hours to live. I was baptized and given my last rites. Against all odds, I survived and eventually went on to have three corrective open heart surgeries by the time I was 3 years old. The surgeries essentially rerouted my circulatory system to allow my right ventricle to take on the role of the left ventricle as well. I am in the first generation of adults living with HLHS. Before the early 1980’s there simply weren’t any survivors. Yet here I am. 28 years old and thriving. Happily married for almost four years, working full time traveling the world and making the most of each and every day. I am a living example of the impact of the American Heart Associations work.
Growing up, my parents made every effort to never treat me any differently. As a result, from elementary school through the majority of college I did very well. Although I knew my limitations and knew my heart was special, I could keep up with and do what the majority of my peers were doing. I never really seemed to experience any adverse effects of my HLHS aside from having to limit my physical activity and getting much sick than the average person. Over the past few years, though, I’ve really had to deal head on with the reality of having a severe, chronic health issue. Not only physically, but emotionally as well. I’ve had to develop, and come to terms with, my identity as an independent, married woman living with heart disease and it’s complications. Although I have been fortunate to do so well, as of right now it is thought that a heart transplant will eventually be necessary. The thought of that is terrifying.
As I started processing all of this, I began to yearn for a community of individuals who understood. To find resources focused around similar goals and optimal heart health. Organizations like the American Heart Association have certainly been able to fulfill these areas of my life. My heart is already at a disadvantage, and I know I must do everything I can to take care of it. Almost two years ago now, I completely changed my diet and began walking, just for 20 minutes or so, 3-4 times a week. I’m proud to say I lost 30 pounds and am in much better health because of it. My husband committed to changing his lifestyle with me and he has lost over 50 pounds! The two of us consider ourselves advocates for not only CHDS, but for overall health and wellness. Organizations like the American Heart Association that truly fundraise for such vital research and provide a community structured around the concept of “healthy for good” are really making a huge difference to people of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of health.
This years Great Washington Region Heart Walk will be my first American Heart Association walk and I could not be more excited! I am thankful to see so many companies getting on board with support not only by fundraising for the walk but also by prioritizing the health of their employees.
I feel very lucky to work for a company that does just that. Each year, we are able to earn an additional $800 to our Health Savings accounts by participating in wellness activities. These include everything from linking a Fitbit, to participating in an in-office biometric screening, participating in a charity walk or run, completing online health modules…the list goes on and on. Our branch has also provided employees with standing desks and highly encourages all employees to take their lunch breaks to get fresh air, go for a walk, or work out in the gym downstairs. And the fact is that programs that focus on workforce health have sizeable benefits to the bottom line, to productivity, and to individual health care costs.
In the places we work and live we must all come together to strengthen our community and to build a culture of health. Research has come a long way in the past 28 years that I’ve been around – not just in the CHD community, but in the Acquired Heart Disease community as well. I am here today as a result of that research and I’m confident that with continued advocacy and fundraising efforts, the changes we will continue to see and the strides that will continually be made will be beyond measure. Thank you for having me here this evening and I cannot wait to se you all on the start line at this years Heart Walk!