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From Heart Patient to Med Student: A Heart Walk Journey

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Join a Heart Walk Team

If you are a UW School of Medicine and Public Health employee who would like to join a team, please contact Connie Putland at or (608) 263-9404

Second-year medical student and Heart Walk team captain Kyle Pauly, with her dogMADISON - Kyle Pauly had her first open-heart surgery when she was just seven months old. Born with pulmonary stenosis, Pauly pulled through the surgery and grew up to be a healthy, active high school student.


But things changed when she started college. At her first Badger football game as a freshman, Pauly fainted. In the weeks ahead, she kept fainting - once in chemistry lab, once in her dorm room.


"It took them a while to figure out what was going on," said Pauly (pictured). After she was put on a Holter monitor to measure her heart's rhythms, her doctors quickly discovered that she needed her heart valve replaced as soon as possible. Her vacationing parents immediately flew back from Mexico.


"They didn't think I'd make it through the weekend," said Pauly, now 24 and a second-year medical student at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Telling her story at the kickoff breakfast for UW Health team captains for the 2009 Heart Walk, Pauly noted the importance of the Heart Walk and its mission to raise money for research.


"I'm going to need another heart valve someday. They don't last forever," Pauly said. "It'd be awesome if they could do it without cracking my chest this time - that would be cool. So I'm all for research that can make that happen."


Pauly is the team captain for a Heart Walk team of second-year medical students called Dr. Bucky Students. Pauly's team is competing against the first-year med student team to see who can raise more money for the Heart Walk. It's a friendly competition with a pizza party at stake, and the honor of raising research money for the American Heart Association - much of which winds up right back at UW.


"I feel like I am so lucky to be where I am," said Pauly. After undergoing the open-heart surgery during her freshman year, Pauly had to drop out of undergraduate school at the UW. But she still managed to graduate in four years, and then went on to study medicine.


"I feel like I owe somebody something," added Pauly. "That's why I decided to go to medical school."


How to Donate to Team "Dr. Bucky Students"


To raise money for the Heart Walk, team Dr. Bucky Students will be holding bake sales and selling a tongue-in-cheek video made by second-year students to orient their first-year counterparts to life at UW School of Medicine and Public Health. The video is for sale to students and alumni for $5 (contact Pauly at for more information).


Donations to Pauly's team can also be made through the Dr. Bucky Students page on the Heart Walk Web site. 


Pauly told her story Thursday at a kick-off breakfast for UW Health Heart Walk team captains, where UW Hospital and Clinics President and CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky challenged team UW Health to top its record-breaking 2008 Heart Walk numbers.


Last year, a "sea of red" turned out at Warner Park for the Heart Walk, with 1,300 UW Health walkers raising $67,000 in donations. This year, Katen-Bahensky challenged the UW Health team to raise $75,000.


Research and the Public Health Mission


UW School of Medicine and Public Health Dean Robert Golden, MD told the team captains that he admires and respects their leadership. He noted that this weekend, other team captains on campus are also preparing for battle on the football field as the UW Badgers take on Northern Illinois in the season opener.


"If that team does nearly as well this year as I know you are going to do, it'll be a great year for Bucky Badger," Golden said.


Golden also emphasized the importance of research at the medical school, particularly since the institution is transitioning into the first-ever combined school of medicine and public health.


"An important part of that involves really strengthening our partnerships with those who share our commitment to increasing the health of the people of Wisconsin," Golden said. "The American Heart Association is one of our very best partners."


Helping Heart Attack Patients in Rural Areas


Matt Wolff, MD, who leads the UW Health division of cardiology, expressed his personal gratitude to all Heart Walk participants whose efforts enable him and his colleagues to improve care and outcomes through research and system improvements.


Dr. Wolff chairs a statewide committee funded by the American Heart Association called Mission: Lifeline, which aims to establish collaborative systems of care for anyone who experiences a severe heart attack, or STEMI (ST segment elevation myocardial infarction).


"The real issue is time," said Wolff, explaining that the faster doctors can open the arteries of a STEMI patient, the better off they will be.


But not every person in Wisconsin who suffers a severe heart attack has quick access to a facility like UW Hospital and Clinics that has expertise in dealing with STEMIs. That's why Wolff and Mission: Lifeline have been working with Dane County emergency medical services groups to equip ambulances with EKG and telemetry equipment.


"This allows a patient to be diagnosed in the driveway on a farm out in Vernon County at 2am," says Wolff. "It's been a smashing success and a real tribute to what health care associations can do when they work together."


Wolff told the Heart Walk team captains that it is efforts like theirs that finance these types of system improvements that help improve care for patients who need it most.


"I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you're doing to allow guys like me to go out and do this stuff," Wolff said.


Join a Heart Walk Team


The Heart Walk is scheduled for Saturday morning, October 10, at Warner Park in Madison. To participate, please visit the Heart Walk Web site to register. If you are a UW School of Medicine and Public Health employee who would like to join a med school team, please contact Connie Putland at or (608) 263-9404.

Date Published: 09/04/2009

News tag(s):  student liferesearch

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From Heart Patient to Med Student: A Heart Walk Journey

Last updated: 09/04/2009
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