Karla and Kay 3

Karla Lodholz (left) and her mother Kay Machyniak

At 63, Kay Machyniak of Wausau, Wisconsin, was working to reduce her risk for heart disease.

While she could do nothing about her family history of problems, she quit her heavy smoking habit. She also lost weight.

She feared that it wasn’t enough. She was often short of breath and unusually tired. There also was unexplained arm pain.

Machyniak shared her concerns with her daughter, Karla Lodholz. She also mentioned how excited she was about a trip to Las Vegas with her fiancé.

Upon arriving, Machyniak left Lodholz a voice mail to let her know she’d made it safely.

At 3 a.m., Lodholz’s phone rang again.


Machyniak was at the hospital. She’d suffered a heart attack.

Doctors found three major blockages, leaving her heart working at only 15 percent of its capacity. She was being prepared for a bypass operation.

Lodholz got the news from her mom’s fiancé. He put Machyniak on the line, her voice slurred by the sedatives. Lodholz told her mom that she loved her and that she was on her way.


Surgery went well. Recovery didn’t.

An hour later, Machyniak’s heart went into distress, failing to beat for about three minutes until medical staff were able to revive her.

By the time Lodholz arrived, she hardly recognized her mom.


It’s important to note that Lodholz is no stranger to heart problems.

When she was 31, her favorite uncle – Scott, her mom’s 49-year-old younger brother – died of a heart attack. This became a factor in Lodholz’s career path: she joined the American Heart Association.

Lodholz is regional vice president for field operations in Wisconsin. So when she arrived in the ICU, she’d heard myriad stories of cardiac emergencies, yet those experiences couldn’t cushion the blow of seeing her mom in an induced coma, a ventilator helping her breathe.

Six days later, Machyniak was awakened. She became strong enough to move to intermediate care, where medical staff helped her begin walking and rebuild strength.

Machyniak and Lodholz on the flight home from Las Vegas.

Machyniak and Lodholz on the flight home from Las Vegas.

After six weeks in Las Vegas, Machyniak was able to return home to Wisconsin.

Three months after completing her cardiac rehabilitation, she took part in the Wausau Heart Walk.


Lodholz’s job involves fundraising for the AHA’s mission of building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

She knew all about the organization’s status in the world of cardiovascular research – that is, providing more funds than any organization outside the federal government. The AHA has invested in excess of $3.7 billion, including more than $100 million annually since 1996.

The organization has funded research by 13 Nobel Prize winners and has been part of many lifesaving advancements such as the first artificial heart valve, cholesterol-inhibiting drugs, heart transplantation, and CPR techniques and guidelines.

Now that her mom was on the receiving end, Lodholz’s connection to the mission became deeper, stronger.

“As much as I thought I knew so much about it, I saw the science come out of that hospital room and knew it was because of work we’ve done at the American Heart Association,” she said. “It was one of the scariest things, but it was also amazing.”

Lodholz has long tried to be conscientious about getting enough exercise and maintaining a healthy diet. Following her mom’s heart attack, she redoubled her efforts, knowing that 80 percent of heart disease and stroke can be prevented with lifestyle changes.

Once she returned to work, Lodholz brought her personal story with her, sharing it with her colleagues and corporate partners, something she says has helped her heal and keep in mind how precious each day is.

“The thought of not having my mom really shook me to my core,” Lodholz said. “I’m so happy to be working for the American Heart Association because I know we played an instrumental role in saving my mom’s life.”

Machyniak and Lodholz at the Wausau Heart Walk in May 2014

Machyniak and Lodholz at the Wausau Heart Walk in May 2014


Photos courtesy of Karla Lodholz


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