Hudson heart disease survivor engages guests at NH Heart Ball

Union Leader Correspondent
April 20. 2014 11:14PM
Anna O’Donnell, 13, of Hudson, shared her story of survival during the NH Heart Ball in Windham on Saturday night. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

HUDSON — On the outside, Anna O’Donnell looks like a typical teenager, one who loves dancing and doesn’t shy away from the spotlight.

But upon meeting the 13-year-old Hudson Memorial School student, she doesn’t hesitate to share her personal struggles, or the reason why she hopes to one day become a pediatric cardiologist.

Born with a congenital heart condition, O’Donnell lauded the work of the American Heart Association during the charity’s annual N.H. Heart Ball at the Castleton in Windham Saturday evening.

“I love sharing my story with people,” she told a crowd of over 300. “Because I’m alive today because of the work done by the AHA.”

Saturday’s formal event, which included an auction, dinner, music by the band Mixed Nutz and a comedy routine by performer Lauren Verge, raised over $150,000 for the AHA’s Granite State chapter, according to Social Events Director Cheryll Andrews.

The evening concluded with a huge fireworks display, courtesy of Atlas Fireworks.

Andrews said proceeds from the Heart Ball would be used towards meeting the organization’s mission of reducing heart disease and resulting deaths by 20 percent by the year 2020.“All of the funds we earn stay right here in New Hampshire for research and patients support,” she added.Dressed in a pink, sparkly dress, O’Donnell, who attended the ball with her parents, Marie and Brian, and members of her extended family, noted, “sometimes the work the AHA does is hard to see.”

“But I’d be willing to bet that the AHA’s work has touched everyone in this room, in one way or another,” she added.

In recent years, some of the organization’s successes have included the widespread placement of heart defibrillators in public community centers, making restaurants and public places smoke-free and education initiatives aimed at encouraging young people to avoid tobacco.

O’Donnell, who has spoken at a number of public events over the years, said her condition is manageable and, for the most part, doesn’t slow her down.

“There’s only one or two things I can’t really do,” she said. “Sometimes I get out of breath a little faster than my friends do.”

“It sure doesn’t slow her down on the dance floor,” her mother, Marie O’Donnell, said with a grin.The family’s involvement with the AHA began when Anna was still a baby and was undergoing treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital.“We started doing the annual Heart Walks and it kind of took off from there,” Marie said, noting that Anna’s cardiologist, Dr. Gerald Marx, was a huge influence in her daughter’s advocacy efforts…. and her future career path.

“She wants to be a doctor like Dr. Marx,” said Marie O’Donnell. “He’s continued to inspire us all.”

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