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Share Your Story - Mark Ridder

Mark Ridder Kansas

Mark Ridder was only a 14 when he took a routine physical before entering high school and learned he had a pronounced heart murmur.

He had always struggled as a child to keep up while running and playing with his brother and cousins, and that exam nearly 50 years ago explained why.  "I would always lag behind, and would get winded easily, but I always thought it was because I was smaller than they were," he said.

The cardiologist at the time told him to avoid strenuous activity, but he wasn’t given any insight into what might be causing the condition. He also wasn’t told that he should regularly consult with a cardiologist in the future.  He grew up watching his father suffer from heart disease and was determined not to follow in his footsteps of heavy smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise. Ridder’s dad had his first cardiac event at age 39 and struggled with progressive atherosclerosis until he died at age 68.

"I saw how it limited his life and ability to function, and I knew I didn’t want that to happen to me," said Ridder, who maintained a healthy lifestyle and kept active with moderate exercise. In 1993, he had a physical done for an executive position. Ridder got his first echocardiogram, which revealed that he had a bicuspid aortic valve — one that has only two leaflets instead of the normal three — and calcification was preventing it from properly opening or closing.

The condition was congenital, meaning the deformed valve was present at birth, and he would need to be monitored to ensure that it wasn’t worsening. By 2011, Ridder, then 59, began having heart palpitations, shortness of breath and became tired more easily. Initially he attributed the symptoms to aging, but an echocardiogram in the summer of 2012 showed his valve condition, called aortic valve stenosis had become severe and replacement of the damaged valve would be required.  "It was a real eye opener," said Ridder of Wichita, Kansas. "I had this idea in my head that I may go my whole life and never need surgery." He decided to have his surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, which took additional coordination.

Heart valve replacement, using a bovine bio-prosthetic tissue valve, was done in November 2012. His recovery had ups and downs, but Ridder credits his 12 weeks of cardiac rehab for helping him quickly regain strength and stamina and reach his goal of returning to a healthy lifestyle. "I decided I’d know I was back if I could condition for and run a 10K," Ridder said. He met that goal in May 2014, less than two years after his valve was replaced. Ridder now runs 4.5 miles every other day and feels "better than I ever have in my life."

The experience also changed him emotionally as he processed what had happened and connected with other heart valve patients. Understanding the power of community, Ridder decided to mentor others as an American Heart Association Heart Valve Ambassador. "I’m so grateful each day that I have a healthy heart and healthy life," he said. "I wouldn’t be alive without this procedure." 

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We Have a Winner!

In the month of August, we held the very first You're the Cure T-Shirt Design Contest! The top four designs were posted on our Facebook page for a week, whoever's design had the most "Likes" by the end of the week won! After a nail-biting finish (it was so close!), the winning design came from Jenny Ensslin of Wisconsin!

Are you interested in getting a shirt? All you have to do is volunteer! Contact your local Grassroots Director for volunteer opportunities in your state.

  • North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska: Pamela Miller -
  • Minnesota, Illinois: Anne Simaytis -
    • Click HERE to volunteer for Heart Walks around Illinois!
  • Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana: Jason Harder -
  • Iowa, Kansas, Missouri: Christy Dreiling -

Thank you to all of the participants who submitted their designs!

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How fate brought together three stroke survivors' families

The following article about You're the Cure advocate Ryley Williams and two other youths who survived strokes on the same day was published by AHA CEO Nancy Brown in the Huffington Post on July 6th, 2016. A link is provided at the end of the story.

In the community of Dartmouth in the Canadian province Nova Scotia, Nik Latter’s family is throwing what his mom promises will be “a big ol’ party.” Fist bumps and hugs will celebrate the fact he’s made it an entire year since his devastating July 8th.

One by one, over each of the last three July 8s, Ryley, Amber and Nik suffered a stroke. Yet the oddity of their shared date is only part of what led their moms to create a de facto support group.

What really brought them together is that Ryley, Amber and Nik were — and still are — teenagers.

Ryley was 15 and devoted to becoming the starting nose guard on his varsity football team. Amber was 13 and loved playing softball and hanging out with the two girls who’d been her best friends since kindergarten. Nik was a few days shy of 18 and had left school to work at a restaurant; he’d bought a car and aimed to become a voluntary firefighter following that upcoming birthday.

Now, well, their dreams are different.

As we approach July 8, the families allowed me to share their stories to send an important message: Stroke can attack anyone at any time.


Ryley Williams went into the summer following his freshman year at Bentonville (Arkansas) High with one goal. He wanted to draw the attention of the varsity football coaches.

So he ran and lifted weights. He ate six meals a day, devouring only foods that would expand his 6-foot, 242-pound frame the right way.

“Honey, you’re never late, you make good grades, you don’t cause any problems — trust me, the coaches notice you,” his mom, Terri Rose, told him. “They just won’t tell you they notice you.”

The morning of Monday, July 8, 2013, Ryley went to an indoor field for football practice. He was stretching when he grabbed his leg and collapsed. Everyone thought he’d pulled a muscle and overreacted. Then they realized there was more to it.

At the hospital, a brain scan showed a bigger problem than the facility could handle. He was flown by helicopter to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. It wasn’t easy fitting someone his size into the chopper.

When they landed, seizures began. Off he went for an MRI. Looking at the results, the doctor pointed to five spots.

“This is a stroke, this is a stroke, this is a stroke, this is a stroke and this is a stroke,” the doctor said. “We need to find out why he has so many blood clots in his brain.”

Around 3 a.m. Wednesday, they still didn’t know why. And now they had a new problem. Ryley’s brain was swelling.

He underwent an operation to remove part of his skull. With Ryley sedated, doctors also took a closer look at his heart. They found hair-like strands of a bacterial infection on the outside of two valves. A-ha! This was the source.

Next question: How much brain damage had he suffered? His right side didn’t function. Doctors cautioned he may never walk or talk.

As Ryley was coming out of his medically induced coma, some football players visited. Coaches, too. They brought a varsity jersey with his number, 99.

“The head coach drove down to Little Rock and stayed with us when Ryley had the skull surgery,” Terri said. “Other coaches came to visit, too. They told us they were watching him. They knew he was going to have a big year. Hearing that was bittersweet.”

Fast forward to today.

His right arm remains compromised. He also battles aphasia, a condition that sometimes makes it hard for him to get words out. Still, Ryley recently graduated high school, right on time. He even spent the last year working at a Walmart Neighborhood Market. And he’s become an advocate for the American Stroke Association. Last year, he and Terri encouraged a Congressional subcommittee in Washington, D.C., to support more funding for research and awareness about pediatric stroke.

He’s spending this summer at a facility that specializes in neuropsychology recovery for victims of strokes and traumatic brain injuries. He’s learning skills to live on his own, although he plans to spend two years at home while attending Northwest Arkansas Community College.

“He’s incredibly positive,” Terri said. “He’s accepted everything. He tells you, `This is who I am now.’”


The night of July 8, 2014, Amber Hebert was on first base when the next batter hit the ball to the outfield.

Amber ran to second base without anyone trying to get her out, then fell as if she’d been punched. She vomited and went into a seizure. Her 5-foot-3, 86-pound body thrashed so violently that four firefighters held her down while a fifth injected her with medicine.

The local hospital in Bellevue, Nebraska, ended up sending her to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. The seizures continued until 3 a.m.

“When she finally stopped seizing, she was able to see and talk and understand you,” said her mom, Tirzah Hebert. “But I could see the fear in her eyes.”

Tests — and seizures — continued throughout the next day. Finally, doctors declared she’d suffered a stroke.

The next day, Amber sat in a chair holding a cup and walked around her hospital floor. The following day, she had a bit more difficulty holding a cup but could still walk. That night, Tirzah asked if she understood what had happened.

“I don’t know,” Amber said.

The next day, a Saturday, Amber couldn’t walk, talk or hold up her head. This continued until Tuesday, when she finally underwent an MRI. It showed that her brain was swelling.

Doctors were able to reduce it with medicine. Then came the waiting game to determine the extent of brain damage. Soon, she began smiling and communicating with her left hand — fist for yes, open palm for no.

These days, Amber walks, but sometimes the toes on her right foot curl, causing her to drag her foot.

She can’t move her right hand or wrist. She also has aphasia. Therapists believe that with practice she’ll improve in every area. (Doctors never determined the cause of her stroke.)

Alas, there have been other obstacles.

Shortly after Amber made it home, her dad’s dad — with whom she was very close — died of cancer. Four months later, a lump in her dad’s neck was found to be cancerous. Early detection plus chemotherapy and radiation helped him beat it.

School proved no refuge. She went from being one of the most popular girls at school to getting bullied. Her two lifelong best friends “just disappeared,” Tirzah said. Amber switched to homeschooling until giving the classroom another try this summer.

“She’s a happy girl, for the most part, very loving and caring,” Tirzah said. “She still has some depression, but who wouldn’t? To have your life completely turned upside down like hers has?”


Even as a child, Nik Latter struggled with migraines. So, last June, when he had one that was bad enough to go to a hospital, nobody thought much of it.

Nor did anyone think twice when he left work complaining of a migraine on Sunday, July 5, 2015.

The next day, he endured what he described as the worst migraine he’d ever experienced. He wore sunglasses indoors and had his mom, Rhonda, drive him to a clinic. The next day, he slept at his grandparents’ house because it was quieter than being home with his two younger sisters.

Rhonda visited him Wednesday, he stared blankly. He tried talking, but nothing came out.

“He’s having a stroke,” she declared. “Call 911!”

A scan showed a mass on the right side of his brain. During an operation, doctors determined it was a stroke. Days later, it was determined the cause was a sinus infection gone severely wrong. The infection broke the barrier between the sinus and the brain, releasing a blood clot.

Nik’s recovery started great. He gave hugs, pulled his mom’s hair and played thumb wars with his sisters. Then, in the early hours of July 16, he had another stroke. On the other side of his brain.

Doctors said Nik may not survive. But the family wanted to give him every chance. Their faith was rewarded when he was weaned off the breathing tube.

He continued clearing hurdles, although he remained hospitalized until March. The long struggle seemed to deflate him; being home reinvigorated him. He now puts his right foot down and pushes his wheelchair. He fist bumps with his right hand, laughs, smiles and kicks.

He makes sounds and, sometimes, says words. Not enough to say he’s talking. But he’s trying.

“He’s very aware of his surroundings,” Rhonda said.


While each stroke story is different, every stroke shares similarities.

Time lost is brain lost. The sooner the stroke can be recognized, the sooner treatment can begin. The gold standard of treatment is called tPA. If this clot-busting drug is administered within three hours, and up to 4.5 hours in some cases, the extent of recovery can improve drastically.

That’s why the American Stroke Association urges everyone to remember the acronym FAST. When you see Face drooping, Arm weakness or Speech difficulty, it’s Time to call 911.

Stroke is the No. 2 killer worldwide and No. 5 in the United States. While it’s true that strokes usually happen to older people is true, Ryley, Amber and Nik are proof that’s not always the case.

The world of pediatric stroke is small enough — and the pull of the internet is strong enough — that families of survivors are bound to find each other.

For instance, Terri connected with Lea Chaulk, a Canadian mom whose son was about the same age as Ryley and had a stroke about the same time. Terri and Lea became like sisters as they helped their sons grieve over the lives they lost and learn to embrace their new reality. Lea later introduced Terri to Rhonda.

Meanwhile, Ryley got to know four teenagers from the Kansas City area who were featured by American Heart Association News after they overcame strokes during high school to graduate on time. One of those families had gotten to know the Heberts, and they connected Terri and Tirzah.

The three moms — Terri, Tirzah and Rhonda — lean on each other often. They’ve yet to meet in person, although Ryley and Amber have shared messages via Facebook.

“Knowing that I’m not alone has helped soooo much,” Tirzah said.

“If I didn’t have some of these moms, I think I’d go insane,” said Rhonda, laughing. “Sometimes I sit down and get lost in thought and get upset. Then I’ll send one of them a message saying `I need you to bring me back down to Earth.’”

Three families irrevocably altered, all on a July 8. It’s incredible. Yet from this coincidence comes strength.

“I’ve told my family, `Look, it happened to two other kids on the same day,’” Tirzah said. “It’s like, Wow. And we’ve all made it this far. And you know what? We’re going to keep on going.”

Read the rest of the story on the Huffington Post.

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Share Your Story - Rick Worrel

Rick Worrel Kansas

It was a cool, spring morning in May when thousands gathered to support the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network for a 5K run through Theis Park.  "I wanted to beat my time, so I had been training on my own," Rick Worrel said.

The year before, Worrel had some heart issues but was well and ready to get back in the race. He was running alongside his 16-year-old daughter, Brooke Worrel, who ended up crossing the finish line a short distance ahead of her dad. But as she waited for him at the finish line, he never came.

"I turn, and there's a group forming, and I realized who it is," she said.  There, lying 25 feet from the finish line, was her dad who went down with a "widowmaker" heart attack.  Read More Here.

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Share Your Story: Lexie Amerin

Lexie Amerin Kansas

My name is Lexie Amerin and I am a 17 year old senior at Southwestern Heights High School. My heart problems occurred while I was in my mother’s womb but weren’t realized until after I was born.

I cried once but then I stopped breathing and they had to resuscitate me. This is how I entered the world.  I was immediately airlifted to Children’s Mercy in Kansas City where they discovered my heart defect. I had been diagnosed with severe Pulmonary Stenosis plus a hole in my heart. My pulmonary valve’s opening was the size of the tip of a pencil. It was too small for my blood to flow through.

In my first 24 hours of life, I had a Heart Catheterization done to allow my blood to flow to my heart. I was in the hospital for 21 days, where twice I code blue and had to be resuscitated. I had severe acid reflux and had surgery to place a feeding tube in my stomach to prevent me from throwing up my food and allow me to gain weight and grow. I was tube fed until I was 5 years old.

As time went on, I grew and continued to thrive. I went to my cardiologist in Wichita every 3 years and my heart was doing well. I played sports such as volleyball and basketball, and I participated in gymnastics and dance. Everything was going great.

When I got to junior high I wasn’t feeling so great, however. I felt like my heart kept skipping beats and had an abnormal rhythm. We went to my cardiologist and they had me try numerous heart monitors but none of them seemed to work. I still didn’t feel right. I went back up to the doctor to do more stress tests where I was told I had to limit my exercise and I couldn’t play sports anymore.  I decided to become the manager so that I could still be a part of my team.

My oldest sister, Kaylee who also has pulmonary stenosis but not as severe, was seeing an adult cardiologist in Kansas City. He said that he would take me as a patient, so I made the switch as well.

My freshman year I was cleared to cheer and play softball at my own pace. I was the JV pitcher and I felt that I was improving throughout the year. I went to the cardiologist for an appointment and learned that I needed more tests. The next visit I was given the news that I needed open heart surgery to replace my heart valve. We decided on replacing it with a pig valve.

June came around and before we knew it, our journey began. We drove to Rochester, MN to the Mayo Clinic where they began running tests. When I was there, I found out that I have another rare heart defect called Ebstein’s Anomaly. This is basically that my tricuspid valve wasn’t formed normal and so it made my blood backflow, causing my heart to enlarge even more. My right ventricle was so enlarged, it was the same size as the rest of my heart. The day before my surgery, we decided to wait for my heart to enlarge a little bit more so the valve could be replaced with an adult sized pig valve which would last longer. They wanted to wait another year before the surgery.

But then sophomore year came. I had to quit cheerleading because yelling took too much of my breath away. Softball was where I, and everybody else, could really see me going downhill. I tried my best throughout the year but my body just physically could not take it. I couldn’t run my own bases anymore, I couldn’t pitch more than an inning. I couldn’t play summer softball because the heat took too much out of me. I would sleep for 12-14 hours to recover after a game or any activity.

One day at softball camp for the little kids, my mom came and told me that she got the surgery scheduled for July 16. I was happy but honestly I was so scared, it was so soon. Before we knew it, July was here.

We started on our 15 hour journey again. We got up to Minnesota and I went through the same tests that I did before. I knew it was for real this time. I was prepared for the surgery. My surgery was to replace my pulmonary valve with a pig valve, to fix my tricuspid valve, and to close the hole in my heart. The last thing that I remember is seeing bright lights, and the doctors looking over me, then I was out.

I woke up around midnight in the ICU. I had a breathing tube that had to be taken out which was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. When they moved me from the ICU to the PCU after surgery, I walked a wheelchair all the way up. Looking back, I have no clue how I did that. I stayed in the hospital for only 4 days. I walked up and down the hallway each day, progressing more and more. On day 3, I finally got to go outside. On day 4, I finally got released from the hospital. It took me about 6 weeks to get back to a full day of school, but finally I made it back.

I went to the doctor three months after my surgery for a post-op checkup where he cleared me to full activity and told me that my heart has shrunk down to a somewhat normal size. It still doesn’t feel like it happened but I feel so much better. This softball season will be the first season I’ll be able to play like a normal girl on the team. I’ll be able to run, pitch, and hit like everybody else for the first time in my life.

Having this surgery doesn’t mean that it’s over. The valve will need replacing in about 15 years.  By then, I won’t have to have open heart surgery, but rather just a one day surgery where they replace it with what is called a melody valve. I’m just one of the many examples of someone living with a congenital heart defect. Without my surgeries, I wouldn’t be here today. My surgery was the best thing that has ever happened to me, it saved my life.  I will go back for my 1 year checkup in July.  I encourage everyone to educate themselves and spread awareness of heart disease.

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Share Your Story - Shareena Turley

Shareena Turley Kansas

Shareena Turley knows first-hand that a stroke can occur at any age. Fortunately, the 26-year-old Park City life insurance agent also knew the signs and symptoms of stroke when her vision suddenly went "haywire" while she was driving. "I was able to pull over, put the car in park and turn on my hazard lights," says Shareena.

Then her stomach began churning and she started throwing up. Alone and slumped over in the driver’s seat, she glanced down and saw her left hand lying in her lap and began taking a mental inventory of what she was experiencing: the vertigo, limp arm and difficulty forming words. "Oh my God," Shareena thought. "I’m having a stroke."

After five attempts, she finally was able to dial 911. Struggling to form her words, she slurred, "Please help me. I’m in Mulvane. I think I’m having a stroke." -See more of her inspiring story.

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90 Seconds Can Save a Life

We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of teaching high school students CPR before they graduate, but what if YOU are called on to give CPR in an emergency? You will most likely be trying to save the life of someone you love: your spouse, parent, child or friend.

In just 90 seconds, you can learn the two simple steps of Hands-Only CPR. Click below to watch the Hands-Only CPR video and then share the link with family and friends!

Thank you for learning how to save a life!

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Help Protect PE for Kids Like Me!

Guest post from Reagan Spomer, 6th grader Alliance for a Healthier Generation Youth Advisory Board Member & You’re the Cure Advocate

I have two words for you… scooter hockey.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  That’s because it is!  Scooter hockey, along with cage ball and 3-way soccer are some of my favorite activities in gym class, which I have a few times a week.

I’m glad I have physical education for a number of reasons.  It keeps me active and teaches me to try new things.  It helps me focus on my school work.  It relieves my stress.  And most of all, it makes me feel great! 

But I know a lot of schools don’t have regular PE like my schools does.  That means a lot of kids are missing out on the benefits of being active during the school day.  I think this needs to change.   

Will you help?  As part of the nationwide campaign to protect PE in schools, Voices for Healthy Kids has created a photo petition map to show how many people across the country love PE like I do.  As people share their pictures, the map will change colors.  I’ve added my “I heart PE” photo for South Dakota.  Will you do the same for your state?  It’s really easy:

  1. Print an “I heart PE” sign (or make your own!)
  2. Take a picture of yourself holding the sign.
  3. Click on your state to share your photo.

Thanks for helping to protect PE for kids like me!

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Share Your Story: Chase Maltbie

Chase Maltbie Kansas

Lansing Elementary School students are jumping for joy over their big donation to the Kansas City American Heart Association. Students raised $13,000 this year thanks to their hard work and the inspiring stories of their gym teacher, Lee Matzeder, and a 6-year-old student, Chase Maltbie.

Matzeder had a heart attack on November 3 at the Royals victory parade. "It felt like someone was sitting on my chest; I could hardly breathe," said Matzeder. His wife, Tina, rushed him to the emergency room at the University of Kansas Hospital, where doctors said he needed triple bypass surgery.

Two months after surgery, Matzeder returned to teach at Lansing Elementary. He was there when students participated in this year's Jump Rope for Heart event benefiting the American Heart Association. First Grader Chase Maltbie had the most donations - a whopping $1,800 in pledges. Chase's dad, Lt. Col. Richard Maltbie, died of a heart attack last October. He was only 39 years old. Chase said he wanted to jump to honor his dad and make a difference.  "To help people with sick hearts so I can donate money to other doctors to help other doctors learn how to take care of sick hearts," said Chase.

The 6-year-old also had advice for other children dealing with a parent's death.  "It's hard to have it; but I hope you can get through it," Chase explained.  Matzeder knows how Chase feels because the gym teacher was also six years old when his father died of a heart attack. Now Matzeder tells everyone he knows to get their heart checked at least once a year.  "I just never thought it would happen to me," said Matzeder. 

Many of the students who participated in the Jump Rope Event said they were jumping to honor their teacher. See the full story here.

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Share Your Story-Heart Walk Survivors

Life is Why!

Everyone has a reason to live a healthier, longer life.

The Heart Walk is the American Heart Association's premier event in the community. It promotes physical activity and heart-healthy living in a fun, family environment.

It is a time of celebration for those who have made lifestyle changes and encourages many more to take the pledge to live healthier lifestyles while raising the monies needed to fund life-saving research and education, advocate for health and SAVE lives!

Come join us for the Kansas City Heart Walk!


Power & Light District
Grand Boulevard
Kansas City, Missouri, 64106


Starts: Sat, 18 Jun 2016 8:00:00 AM
Ends: Sat, 18 Jun 2016 11:30:00 AM

Registration Fee: Free event. Participants are encouraged to collect donations.


It's easier than ever to support the American Heart Association.

For more information contact:
Natalie Cronkhite

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