2024 NYC Communications Intern of Impact: Introducing Ella Beames

By Ella Beames:

It was September 2, 2011, when my world turned upside down. My vision cut to black in milliseconds. I was going into cardiac arrest, and it was my first week of third grade, no less.

Thankfully, my principal, Deb Rivera, saved my life with three rounds of CPR. I survived and I was subsequently diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). Soon after, I had a pacemaker and implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implanted.

It was incredibly challenging being eight years old and not being able to participate in my gym class, an obstacle eliciting intense stares and confusion from my peers. I felt vulnerable. I was told I couldn’t even lift five pounds. I even feared leaving my parents’ side.

In my experience, the most painful part of surviving a health tragedy is the feeling of being cast off into a desolate, foggy limbo of uncertainty and fear, but because of all of the support I received from family, friends, and fellow survivors, I knew in my heart that I would find joy again.

As I am writing this, I am thinking of Maddie Niebanck, a stroke survivor we highlighted on the Eastern States blog earlier this month, who wrote in her story, “We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it.”

I believe her words wholeheartedly. That’s why I also chose to channel this tragedy into a life of passion and drive to help others like me.

Today, I am 21 years old, and a rising senior at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. Maybe life has dealt a handful of challenges, and maybe ‘star athlete’ was not on my college applications, but that hasn’t hindered me from paving my own path to success.

I manage Bellarmine University’s NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse team and have found irreplaceable mentorship in my position – a dynamic I never thought I’d be lucky enough to experience. Somehow I managed to find a place in athletics, despite what I had believed to be possible for myself for the last decade.

I’ve pursued my passions and found several leadership roles within philanthropic-based student organizations and have found a beautiful tribe of supporters through those endeavors.

Since my life-changing event, incredible opportunities have come my way, several with the American Heart Association. My relationship with the Association began nearly 10 years ago when I was the Open Your Heart survivor at the 2015 Louisville Heart Ball.

The AHA welcomed me with open arms and provided me opportunities afterwards to advocate for our shared cause. Most recently, I journeyed to Frankfort, KY to advocate for House Bills 169 and 331, addressing cardiac emergency preparedness in Kentucky schools. Both bills were signed by Gov. Andy Beshear earlier this spring.

    

While I loved attending advocacy events as a survivor, I wanted support and serve the mission of the American Heart Association in a greater capacity.

On a whim, in March of this year, I applied for the Marketing Communications internship in the New York City office. I thought I would apply just to see what would happen. I spent a month daydreaming about living in my dream city, working with an organization that I revere.

Then, in April, after a few interviews, I received a call offering me the position. Without hesitation, I followed my medicinally, electronically, and passionately guided heart, and said yes to a new opportunity in the Big Apple.

Writing this from the AHA office in Manhattan, overlooking the New York Public Library and Bryant Park, in only two weeks here, I’ve already had the utmost privilege of meeting renowned cardiologists, New York City advocates and elected officials, and a new branch of the AHA family.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me over the next 12 weeks!

Again, I will echo the words of Maddie, that while we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we respond. I have learned firsthand that tomorrow is not promised, and I hope to use this second chance at life as an opportunity to be a part of a movement that creates opportunities for survivors like me and protects members of our local and national community.