School crisis intervention aid Carla Leonard had grown to hate one part of her morning routine: bumping her head on the automated external defibrillator (AED). She’d even petitioned the principal to have it moved farther from her desk.
But today Carla has a new appreciation for the device: “Ironically, that AED saved my life.”
Carla was 43 when she experienced what felt like “a brain freeze to the chest” during the morning pledge. She went into sudden cardiac arrest.
Carla’s school had a medical emergency response plan in place. As a result, school nurse Alice Habina quickly started CPR and used the AED before the volunteer EMT department in the rural New York town arrived. At the hospital, Carla had a cardioverter defibrillator implanted.
Realizing she wanted to pay it forward was a defining moment for Carla, who works as an American Heart Association volunteer to advance legislation for school nutrition guidelines and funding for healthy heart and tobacco-control programs. She has also attended numerous You’re the Cure D.C. Lobby Days and advocated for increased funding for NIH research.
“I was overwhelmed the first time I went to a national event to tell my story,” she said, through tears. “I was amazed at how the American Heart Association goes above and beyond to save lives.”
Carla, who has since retired, now stays active by walking because she knows that fitness is important for good heart health. “I swim laps at the local Y, and I truly encourage sports in school with my daughter.”
Her message: “Know your numbers like you know your shoe size. If I need to, I’ll shout it from the rooftops and wear bells to get people to pay attention.”
This content was last reviewed March 2017.