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Survivor Demonstrates a Heart for Service

“It was like my blood was on a trampoline, jumping around in my body.” 

It was a bizarre sensation for Kaela Gedda ’12. As a 19-year-old student, home for the Easter holiday, her life was about to take a shocking turn.

Gedda had noticed her arm felt numb and strange in the morning, and thought she had probably slept on it funny. When she dropped her hairbrush while drying her hair, she thought she was just being “a klutz.” Later, something happened that she couldn’t easily explain away. “It felt like I face-planted, or went full force into a brick wall,” Gedda explains. “Everything went black. But when I woke up, I was still standing.” She tried to walk, but had to lean on a wall, dragging her left leg. Following her mother’s advice to eat a snack, Gedda discovered she couldn’t even open a banana. Her mother drove her to an emergency room, where it took seven hours for doctors to discover what had happened.

She’d had a stroke.

While doctors tried to pinpoint the cause of the stroke, Gedda struggled to cope. “When I was in the hospital that first week, my mom got a ring for me,” Gedda recalls. “It was engraved. The outside said ‘Faith,’ and the inside said ‘Live by faith, not by fear.’ That became my mantra.”

That week, doctors found out Gedda had a PFO – a hole in the heart that didn’t close as it should after birth; 25 percent of people have them, most with no side effects. She eventually had surgery to close that hole. Three years later, Gedda had another mini-stroke. It became clear then that the heart defect was not the cause of her stroke problems; it just provided a pathway for the blood clot. As of today, the cause of Gedda’s strokes is still unknown. But her sense of purpose is crystal clear: to use her own difficult experience to serve others. That service began soon after her first stroke, when the American Heart Association (AHA) reached out to her.

“That was a blessing,” says Gedda. “That gave my story a lot of purpose. I knew I wasn’t just going through this to suffer. There was a reason, and that was to serve someone else.” She used her Washington Semester experience junior year to work as an intern in the AHA’s D.C. office. She loved the experience, and continued on as a volunteer with the organization. After a few years of sales and marketing experience, Gedda landed a job as the Green Bay corporate events director for the AHA in September 2014.

Gedda remains on blood thinners to prevent another stroke. In 2014, she had an internal loop recorder implanted into her chest to monitor for atrial fibrillation. In the meantime, Gedda continues to reflect on that ring her mother gave her: “I can either base my decisions off of faith that God is protecting me, or I can live based in fear. Fear would only perpetuate what I was experiencing; faith could elevate me, and allow me to use this as an opportunity to serve others.”


June 27, 2016