Family, Smiles, and Laughter: Kelli Jean

Kelli Jean 1976–2009

“It was around 7:15 in the evening of September 17th, 2009. I received a phone call from paramedics and was told that I needed to go to Kelli’s house immediately. “Kelli who?” My mind raced. I had an uncle Kelly, a close friend, Kelley, and of course they couldn’t possibly mean my sister Kelli. She was 33, didn’t smoke or drink, and was the healthiest person I knew, besides, we had just talked earlier that day and made plans to go to the park the next morning. The 911 operator told me that there was an adult female with an infant at home and I was needed immediately. My heart sunk. My sister, Kelli, had just given birth to a healthy girl three months ago, she was so overjoyed to finally be a mother. My husband and I were at her house in less than ten minutes. It was surreal. Like a scene from a movie. Emergency vehicles and lights everywhere. I ran into the house and she was being worked on upstairs by emergency personnel. I would never see her alive again. We were not allowed in the ambulance and looking back, I believe it was because she was already gone.

My husband stayed with our three month old niece and I drove with a police escort to the hospital with her husband. It was the longest drive of my life. When we arrived at the hospital, Kelli’s husband and I were shown to a small room where we were told of her passing. Alone. We were crushed. My parents were an hour away and would be meeting us at the hospital; all I kept thinking of was “how am I going to break this news to them? Kelli was the glue that held our family together and our mother’s best friend.

The doctors said they did everything they could to save her. I was in shock. How could this happen? The weeks before Kelli’s heart attack, she complained of a slight tingling in her left arm, and being extremely tired. What new mom isn’t tired? She had made an appointment to see her doctor, but otherwise didn’t have any sign of a health problem until her husband found her unconscious. Seven weeks later we received the autopsy report and were told that she passed away due to a little known condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD). The doctor said he almost didn’t find it as the tear in her heart was so minute. He explained this was a very rare condition and that very little was known about SCAD. The only information that we were given at the time is that SCAD can occur after delivering a child. The doctor told us that according to the research at the time (in 2009) that most women who have a SCAD have their SCAD within the first eight weeks after delivering a baby, so she actually lived longer than most. She lived long??? No, her life was cut short after accomplishing the one thing she yearned for — a healthy baby.

Kelli loved children. She worked in the education field for several years as teacher and tutor. After meeting her husband in 1998 (after losing her long-time boyfriend in a tragic accident), they had tried for many years to become pregnant. After her daughter was born, she made the decision to stay home and raise her baby full time, but always the giver, she also cared for another child in her home. Her passion was helping children and caring for elderly family members. Before her daughter was born, she would meet friends and their children at parks, and babysit whenever there was a need. She exuded love to everyone she met. She adored her three nephews and spent a great deal of time with them, hosting slumber parties and play dates, even though they lived over 2 ½ hours away.

She was the middle child. My sister, Jodi, and I were lucky to have her in the middle. Kelli was one of those people who would light up a room just by walking through the door. Her smile and sense of humor were contagious! She loved surrounding herself with people and we called her the social butterfly or social director. She was always bringing friends into the family and would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it. She was the type of person who would yell “hello” out the windows at passing friends and neighbors.

Over 1,000 people came to pay their respects at her wake. I was honored when some of her closest friends this past year planned a 40th birthday party in her honor. We ate Mexican food and spent time together, reminiscing about her wonderful life.

I miss her every day. Seven years later, I still think “Geez, I need to call my sister and share this news with her.” We often spoke five times a day. My daughter was born fourteen months after Kelli’s passing; we gave her Kelli’s middle name, Jean, but it breaks my heart that Cailei will never meet her aunt. Her own daughter will only know her mother from stories.

On the anniversary of her flight to Heaven, we go to Gelsosomo’s Pizza, which was her favorite. Our family and friends raised over $25K in her honor to help rebuild ValPlayaso Park in Valpariso, Indiana. It was her favorite park, and she would have surely wanted to spend many happy days there with her daughter, and even now when I see the families and the children enjoying the park, I can almost see her smile. As a family we have been involved in several American Heart Association walks. Many friends have come out to show their support for Kelli and our family. Our logo is TEAM KELLI FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS.

We have memory trees in our yards and loads of pictures of her smiling face in our homes. We feel like she is still with us in so many ways. We get together and make tacos (her favorite) on her birthday and visit the cemetery often with balloons, flowers, and hand drawn pictures from her daughter as well as her nieces and nephews. She loved ladybugs. Before she passed, she had bought, but never had the chance to decorate, her daughter’s room in a ladybug theme. Whenever I see a ladybug, I think of my sister, who was loved by all, and passed far too soon. Whenever we see a shooting star we look up and think of our shooting star in heaven.

I know if my sister was with us today she would remind us to live life to the fullest, as if it were our last day here on earth. She would tell each of us to take immediate action if we experience any signs or symptoms of heart attack, and encourage us to listen closely to our body — never second guessing a symptom. I lost my beautiful sister when she was far too young to SCAD. My hope is by sharing this message, every mother, sister, wife and friend will gain knowledge they may need to prevent this from happening to them and live a heart healthy life. We miss Kelli everyday but she will remain #FORVERINOURHEARTS.”

Please share this post with your friends and family, in honor of Kelli Jean, and help us #kissscadgoodbye

SCAD Research, Inc. is the largest supporter of SCAD research at the Mayo Clinic. If you would like to donate funds to help find answers to help researchers and doctors better understand this disease that takes the lives of far too many healthy young women, in honor of Kelli, please visit: you may add a note that your donation is in honor of the life of Kelli Jean. #scadstories

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