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Heart-disease survivor exudes inspiration
She was the girl who always had to sit out of the Friday mile runs in middle school, holding the clipboard and taking everyone else’s scores. Over 20 years later, she is a survivor and volunteer of the year for the American Heart Association, Puget Sound.
Brandi Aubrey was diagnosed with a heart condition at age 2 ½. Although she has endured an arduous journey, Aubrey has overcome her challenges and now uses her adversity as a story of hope for others.
“It was stressful, but we made it through,” said Ann Aubrey, Brandi’s mother. “It’s so great to see her be acknowledged for all that she’s done. It’s a great time of pride for us.”
Dec. 5 will mark the four-year anniversary of Aubrey’s open-heart surgery — a procedure that saved her life and inspired her to make an impact on other women’s lives through the American Heart Association.
Aubrey said even as an adult, her doctors wouldn’t take her seriously when she reported having symptoms indicating her condition was getting worse. She recalls that one doctor “actually patted my leg and said ‘Oh honey, you’re a young woman, young women overreact to things. It’s probably just stress.’”
Aubrey’s involvement with the AHA started at a Seattle Storm basketball game, which was holding a heart-health awareness night. After sharing her story with an AHA representative, she enthusiastically became involved with the Go Red For Women Passion Committee, which helps educate and bring awareness about heart disease to women in the Pacific Northwest.
Aubrey discussed the importance of spreading awareness to women, explaining the ramifications of her own family members’ poor diets, smoking habits, and minimal exercise throughout their lives.
“I lost four family members to completely preventable heart disease. …Even though they knew they needed to make simple changes, none of them did … they had the choice to be healthy, a choice I was never allowed,” said Aubrey.
Aubrey explained that many women do not know the symptoms of heart complications because until recently, research was done only on men who do not experience the same symptoms as women. Awareness events like the National Wear Red Day, 5-K walks and fund-raising luncheons are crucial to informing women about the side effects of poor heart health.
Now, after three years, Aubrey is chair of the Passion Committee. From recruiting volunteers to fostering partnerships for fundraisers to speaking engagements, Aubrey has tirelessly dedicated her work to AHA and the Go Red for Women awareness campaign. She has mentored other women going through similar challenges through the Go Red for Women movement’s Heart Match Program.
“Brandi brings passion to every event she attends,” said Elizabeth Gibbons, member of the Go Red For Women Passion Committee. “Not only does she inspire people she’s speaking to, she inspires people she’s speaking with. The overall passion she exudes leaks onto everyone else and inspires us. … The world is a better place having Brandi Aubrey in it.”
In addition to working with the AHA, Aubrey owns her own business, Seattle Sports & Therapeutic Massage. She always wanted to be involved in sports somehow, and now she provided services to marathoners and football teams as well as Olympic athletes, Mariners and Seahawks players.
As an AHA leader, Audrey can share her story and encourage others, instead of being bullied for it or feeling the need to hide her condition. “It’s really exhilarating,” she said.
Aubrey is healthier now than ever. On her 35th birthday, she returned to Kenmore Junior High and successfully completed the 1-mile run she always wished she could do.
“For the first time in my life, I am seen not as someone with a bad heart, but as a survivor. … That word reminds you that you’ve gone through a lot, but you’re still here,” said Aubrey.
Jessica Kamzan is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.