In fall 2016, Kyli Penner was focused on school, standardized tests, her friends, and her dance team.
All photos courtesy of Kyli Penner, used with permission.
In the fall of 2016, her mom signed her up for a free heart screening through a local program called Play for Patrick.
“It was Halloween,” Kyli remembers. “I had a party that night, and I didn’t really want to take time out of my day to go do it. I didn’t think it was necessary.”
But Kyli’s mom was insistent — and it's a good thing she was. The screening would ultimately end up saving Kyli’s life.
Though she was just 15, Kyli had an atrial septal defect — basically, a hole in her heart.
At the Play for Patric screening, doctors discovered Kyli's heart was allowing oxygenated and deoxygenated blood to mix. If allowed to continue, it could become life-threatening. She would need surgery to close up the hole in her heart.
Thankfully, Kyli's condition was minor enough that it could be handled with a minimally invasive surgery. Doctors placed a small metal covering over the defect, and within weeks, Kyli was back to life as usual — dance team and all.
Though the process of finding and treating her condition was scary, Kyli is hugely grateful that she found out about it when she did.
“It’s crazy,” she says. “I didn’t want to go, and then going to this one thing that my mom dragged me to not only changed, but saved my life.”
Sometimes it can seem less overwhelming to ignore problems rather than face them — but for Kyli, getting her surgery when she did may have saved her life. “You don’t just plan to have heart surgery,” she says. “But it’s better to figure that out earlier and to do something about it.”
That's the exactly the point of Play for Patrick, which is the organization that provided the free screening drive that Kyli attended. Patrick Schoonover was 14 when he passed away suddenly from an undetected heart condition. Though his parents couldn't save him, they've dedicated their lives to making sure kids in the area, like Kyli, stay heart-healthy through preventive check-ups.
Now, Kyli's perspective has changed — she's all about preventive health care, and she's spreading her philosophy to her friends and family.
"It kinda gave me a 'why not?' philosophy," she says. "The hour I took out of my day ... was so worth adding years onto my life." Even her friends have adopted her mindset, inspired by Kyli to encourage their own families to get regular check-ups.
Ultimately, Kyli hopes her story moves more than just her own community to get the health care they need to prevent an emergency. "None of us likes to go to doctors' appointments," she says. "But we have to get out of that mindset and jump on opportunities for our health right now."
It can be a struggle to prioritize preventive health care, but Kyli's story shows that no one is above getting regular checks.
It can be easy to assume that if you're young or if you feel healthy, you don't need preventive care.
“As kids or as teenagers, we don’t really think that far ahead. We like to think in the now: what we have for homework, whether we’ll make a varsity sport or something,” Kyli says. “We think health issues are things we have to deal with as we age, but it’s not at all true.”
Kyli's story proves that, no matter how young or athletic someone is, everyone should prioritize preventive health care. It could end up saving your life.