Mike and I had the profound honor of being asked to speak on the third night of the Hearts Delight Wine Tasting and Auction in Washington, DC. Heart's Delight is "a four-day celebration of exceptional food and wine benefiting the American Heart Association. With our 18 year history of incredible generosity from around the world, Heart's Delight has raised more than 16.5 million dollars for the American Heart Association" (https://heartsdelightwineauction.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/hearts-delight-fact-sheet.pdf). This was extremely monumental for us, as it marked the first time we were both featured patients, advocates, and speakers. As you all know quite well, throughout the past 8.5 years of my life and CHD journey Mike has been my rock and an incredible source of support. He's been my caretaker and biggest advocate. He's transformed his life to become heart healthy, to educate himself, and to work tirelessly as an advocate for the CHD and greater heart community. I have been lucky enough to have him at my side at all of our heart walks, through all of the writing pieces I have done, and more recently cheering me on as I've ventured into the world of public speaking. On the flip side, I've been his biggest supporter and advocate as he's changed his lifestyle, thrown himself into school, and recently become a patient himself. We've each experienced a role reversal as we became for each other what the other is for ourselves. But being on the exact same playing field this past weekend: both speaking, both sharing our stories, both being featured – well, that was exceptionally powerful.
Although I've always been told about the power of sharing my story, I often wrestle with having the spotlight on me when doing so. I receive so many comments about being brave or being an inspiration and to be honest I've always wrestled with feelings of guilt over those comments. I've felt like I haven’t really done anything spectacular – I just so happened to be born with a severe congenital heart defect and have lived through it. But as I've become more comfortable with becoming vulnerable and owning my story I have realized the immense power that sharing does carry. The night of the event that we spoke at was the Vinters Dinner and Auction, which featured food from Chef Daniel Boulud (omg AMAZING...plus we got to meet him!) and a live auction featuring wine and experiences from Bordeaux, France. Please note that my numbers are not completely exact, but the Friday night event raised anywhere from $430,000.00 to $450,000.00. Attendees who bid on these incredible wines and experiences left the evening satisfied knowing that not only were they getting a chance to bid for some of their biggest passions: wine and travel, but also knowing that every dollar was going to an incredible cause: The American Heart Association. Mike and I spoke in what is called the "Open Your Heart" segment of the night. We both shared our stories with an audience of almost 400 people. After we finished speaking the auctioneer opened up the bidding…although this time it was a straight donation to the American Heart Association. We were told that after we spoke and that portion concluded an additional $80,000.00 was raised. This is the second largest amount generated following an Open Your Heart speaker/presentation in the past 19 years. Mike and I were absolutely dumbfounded….and beside ourselves! We couldn't believe our ears. Our words, our story, inspired people to donate an additional eighty thousand dollars to the American Heart Association! I think it was at this moment that I realized just how much of an impact Mike and I are actually making. Heart disease and stroke has had an impact on just about everyone in some capacity and I am proud to speak on behalf of, and raise money for an organization, that does so much for this community. Because of Mike and I opening up ourselves and our hearts, the American Heart Association now has an additional $80,000.00 to put towards research and treatments geared at creating a much healthier world!
As I said in a social media post immediately after we wrapped up the event last Saturday "as if I needed another reason to love this guy even more, we just did our first joint speaking event…and killed it". Both being congenital heart defect patients and sharing this newfound role of advocates in a much more public forum has bonded us together in a way I never realized possible. In fact, we've never been closer. We each bring something unique to the table and I'm beyond excited to see where this all might lead for us. I know Mike shares the same sentiments and I wanted to be sure to share a few of his thoughts with you as well.
"The fact that I was introduced by Kelly, with her standing by my side, for my first ever public speaking appearance was beyond amazing...not to mention the fact that I was speaking at such a prestigious event! I was definitely extremely nervous but knowing I had her support and I was going to speak directly from the heart was very calming. This time next year I will be a graduate and a registered diagnostic medical sonographer in echocardiography, but as many of you know my end goals run deeper. I hope to continue my education and work in public health and policy and Kelly and I are already taking active steps in this direction. Like her, I am extremely excited to see where all of this will lead us. My mind is working overtime and I have already started implementing strategies for us to greaten our impact and presence in the community. I can honestly say I have never been more motivated. It's extremely rewarding to make a difference in this world - no matter how big or small" - Mike DiMaggio :)
A lot of you were kind enough to ask if our speaking portion was recorded. Unfortunately, it wasn't, but I wanted to share our speech below for anyone who is interested in reading it. Also, as spring continues, I'd really encourage everyone to find a cause you are passionate about. Make it a goal to donate funds and or time. And above all, practice empathy. Share your personal story and lend a listening ear to others. One step at a time we can all make a greater difference and change in this world.
~~Hearts Delight Speech~~
Kelly: Good evening, everyone. My congenital heart journey continues every day and through advances made by the American Heart Association, I am here living my life with a focus on our future. Though things are not always easy, I have been allowed and will continue to enjoy all that life has to give. I am very thankful. I wouldn’t be here today if not for the incredible support of family, and as I have transitioned into adulthood, Mike has been my rock. Little did I know that I would end up being his as well.
Mike: I feel extremely blessed to be standing here tonight after everything that happened to me this winter and to share my story. At the end of December, it was discovered by complete fluke that I also have a congenital heart defect. Two holes in my heart had gone undiagnosed since my birth. This is the defect you hear about when you hear of young athletes suddenly going into cardiac arrest. I was lucky. Unaware of the issues in my heart, 3 years ago I had committed to a heart-healthy lifestyle which I firmly believe kept me from succumbing to a stroke or cardiac arrest due to my defects. You see, 3 years ago I weighed 240 pounds… Today,180. I committed to running and changed the way I fuel my body. I did this to better myself...and for Kelly, to ensure that I would be around for a long time to support her, the love of my life. 3 years ago, I was oblivious to my congenital heart defect and today I have two repaired holes in my atria. As I look toward tomorrow, a year from now I will be a college graduate and a practicing cardiac allied health professional. And I can see my tomorrow because of the changes I made for my health, and with the help of the American Heart Association…. And, of course, a little luck too!
Kelly: The American Heart Association fundraises to support groundbreaking research that helps Congenital Heart Defect patients like Mike and myself to thrive and has helped create medicine and treatments that impact us all. The American Heart Association helps us live the healthiest lives we can through education, advocacy and its work on improving the quality of life for all. When you think about it, heart disease and stroke has touched everyone in some way and we are all here tonight to support this great mission to build a healthier world. So please be generous this evening and know that you are helping to save lives… and each time you raise your paddle tonight, you are giving families like ours a tremendous amount of hope for a bright future. Thank you!