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Michaela Gagne: Role Models -- Educating People About Heart Disease

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Last year I attended the Boston Bruins Go Red for Women night as Miss Massachusetts, and what a night it was…

I educated people about heart disease being the number one killer of women, I sat in the special seats between the two hockey teams’ benches during the third period (man, did it smell!), and I was able to achieve one of my most secret and desired aspirations…yup, you guessed it - riding a Zamboni. With the wind and ice chips blowing in my face, I felt like a true superstar.

I met many other heart survivors that evening, including a beautiful girl about 9 years old. Jenny had an amazing story of overcoming the odds, and we took many pictures of the two of us hugging. I posted a picture of us on the Miss Mass website, and it quickly became one of my favorites.

This year I returned to the Bruins GRFW night, this time without a crown or Zamboni ride. Another beauty contestant (not as a survivor, but quite frankly an absolutely gorgeous woman who had me in awe) took the spotlight that night in our advocacy area, and I watched as a girl ran up to her with open arms. Just as she approached the young woman, she stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes filling up with tears as she looked up. It took me a minute to recognize Jenny after realizing the full year of growth children are known to accumulate. Jenny’s mom apologized to the lovely queen, explaining that her daughter thought that she was someone else. I locked eyes with Jenny’s mom, and she quickly pointed her daughter in my direction.

I received one of the greatest hugs of my life that night. In that moment, I realized I had played some sort of impact on this young girl, and I was clueless as to how. Jenny was crying hard at this point, not letting me go…that just made the tears stream down my own face. As I held her, her mom who was also crying (I’m sure we caught a few interesting stares from our emotional reunion), told me that Jenny used to look at my website every day to see the picture of the two of us. She would always tell Jenny when she looked at the picture that she can be whatever she wants to be, even Miss Massachusetts, despite all of the difficulties and challenges she had in her life.

Wow. When we think about being a role model, we often think about children we see in our everyday lives. I never knew the impact I could have on a girl I briefly met once. You never know who you can inspire, and our actions certainly speak for who we are. That night kept me so motivated to not only continue educating about heart disease, but also to seek out other young people affected by cardiac conditions as a means to help them view their syndromes with a new sense of hope. Heart disease does not have to define you. Rather, it can inspire you to take positive action that can only in turn inspire others.

For more information, visit www.HeartScreenAmerica.com/michaela

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