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Michaela Gagne: Simple Actions

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Have you ever done something just because you felt it was the right thing to do…and then this seemingly inconsequential action becomes something much greater than you anticipated?

In first grade I met Nicole Safford. Even at 5 years old, we begin to discover stereotypes: the popular know-it-all, (Jennifer Catalano), the tough bad boy, (Brian Beckford), and the one who gets picked on. Nicole was the one who got picked on.

I’ll always remember that sick feeling in my stomach when Nicole would do something and the other kids would make fun and laugh. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, but it didn’t seem like I should jump on the bandwagon. No, instead I approached the most intellectual, wise, perceptive, astute scholars I knew: Mom and Dad.

After all, Mom knew how to get Play-Doh out of my hair (don’t ask …I stand firm blaming my sister), and Dad knew how to make a perfect glass of coffee milk (extra syrup, straw, and if you were lucky, a little whipped cream). Surely they must know the answer to this icky situation.

I scheduled the family meeting and laid the issue on the table, wanting to know how to solve the problems of the world…or at least the playground.

My mom told me that not all little girls were as lucky as I was, and Dad said maybe I should stand up to the next person who made fun of her.” What Mom didn’t say was that she happened to know quite a bit about Nicole’s family life….Nicole never saw her mother who had a drug addiction, her dad was often away on military business, and her grandmother of 68 years-old was raising her and her little brother. And her grandmother didn’t speak English…which explained a lot about not always being able to understand what Nicole was saying. In short, Nicole wasn’t as lucky as I was to have a family who cared about her, and that meant I had a responsibility to her.

The next day I told Jennifer Catalano that she was mean and should leave Nicole alone (so there!). Yup, I had quite a way with words.

I played with Nicole at recess that day, and by the end of our 15 minutes of academic freedom, two more girls were playing tag with us. Eventually Nicky became less of the kid to pick on, and our friendship developed. After a couple of years, she had to move far away because of her dad’s job. Before she left, she hugged me and told me I was the best friend she ever had.

Every single summer from that year until college, Nicky would call me around July to say hi and ask me how I was doing.

It’s pretty crazy to look back to realize how much impact a person can have with just a few words. I’ve discovered the same is true with educating people about heart disease. It doesn’t have to be a huge, enormous action to simply change a person’s life.

When I was Miss Massachusetts in 2006, I was interviewed for a newspaper story right before I left for the Miss America pageant. Instead of focusing on the pageant, the reporter and I ended up in a great discussion about my condition, heart disease overall, and how more lives can be saved. I went to the pageant, had a blast, and came home to an email that was better than any crown could ever be.

A woman wrote to me saying she read the article about me in the newspaper, and my story gave her the courage to go through with surgery to get an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), the same device that I was given at 17. She had been nervous and procrastinating, despite desperately needing it. She figured that if I could strut across stage in a swimsuit and heels with that scar across my chest and device in my body, then she could take the plunge herself. She thanked me for saving her life, later giving me an update that her surgery went well. I never heard from her again.

I took a simple step to educate a reporter, and a life was saved. 15 minutes of recess with Nicole Safford became the only source of friendship she had ever known. Let’s get this straight…I’m no Mother Teresa, but I do recognize we can all take action, even if it’s small. We don’t have to scale buildings or build mountains to change a life. Compliment that person who seems down; write that card to a friend just because; educate someone about a health condition. Recognize that a seemingly small incident could have a significant impact, and that one day someone’s small effort may change your own life in a monumental way. Be that change to someone else.

At 17-years-old Michaela was diagnosed with LongQT Syndrome, one of the conditions responsible for causing Sudden Cardiac Arrest and claiming the lives of many young people unexpectedly. Michaela turned her obstacles into opportunities when she became Miss Massachusetts 2006 and began to speak nationally regarding SCA and heart disease. To learn more about Michaela please visit: www.HeartScreenAmerica.com/michaela.

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