The American Heart Association has the mission to engage people to a better heart and brain health. To fulfill this mission, they started an awesome, simple and remarkable campaign: Life is Why.

On February 24th, 2017 I had a day where my life was truly filled with emotions and experiences by asking myself a simple yet powerful question: What is your Why? I not only did ask myself, but I got asked about this by others too!

This was no ordinary day, I got the chance to think deeply about the past, the present and the future, not only of myself and my loved ones, but also of others that had amazing stories to share with me.

I woke up directly to go to my volunteering gig at the Sloan Healthcare & Bioinnovations ConferenceI started by welcoming participants along with engineer and MIT SDM (System Design and Management Master Program) student Erdem Yilmaz to this event at the MIT Media Lab.  

Photo: (left to right) Dr. Ahmed Altayyar, Alicia Chong, Erdem Yilmaz

Photo: (left to right) Dr. Ahmed Altayyar, Alicia Chong, Erdem Yilmaz

II had the honor of attending the GoRedBoston Go Red for Women Luncheon that same day. I met and heard stories from heart and stroke survivors, these were amazing women full of stamina and with powerful voicesI sometimes feel very shy and not my true self, even though hearing them reaffirmed my motivation of creating valuable and meaningful heart health technology. The event was intense, compelling and filled with women who support the efforts to end heart disease and are creating awareness and donating their own time and money.

Most of the people I met and talked to had either one of these reasons to be there: they had first person survival stories related to heart disease and/or stroke or a loved one had one of these stories and they all had become stronger and fully engaged on raising awareness through these experiences.

I met amazing groups of ladies such as the "Defibrilladies" (amazingly clever name by the way), which is a support group for active women living with ICDs (implantable cardiac defibrillators). This kind of friendship, support, pride and community is truly beautiful and powerful.

Photo: The Defibrilladies

Photo: The Defibrilladies

Although I was enjoying the event very much, I suddenly felt like an outsider. Before lunchtime, I got asked the question again, What is your Why? I couldn't avoid feeling embarrassed, responding what I knew at that moment, because I care and feel strong about heart health and its progress. Because I want to learn more. Because I am interested in meeting more heart survivors, because I am a student working on gender gaps in healthcare... These reasons seemed very very little compared to everyone else's. During lunch came the panel and keynotes raising high and intense emotions in me. On one hand, they were sharing stories of near-death experiences in their past or a loved ones past, on the other they were sharing powerful takeaways on empowerment and the importance of a healthy work life balance, a challenging topic any women can relate to. 

Photo: Red Couch Panel: Joan Wallace-Benjamin, Judy Shen-Filerman & Cathy Jeon

Photo: Red Couch Panel: Joan Wallace-Benjamin, Judy Shen-Filerman & Cathy Jeon

I felt I was going to breakdown, tears started to build up. And then I started talking with Anna and Kim, two survivors sitting in my table, they were awesome and positive, they made me feel understood especially when they both thought our technology was cool and a good idea. Getting first hand use-case examples from them about their experiences and their positive reactions was highly needed and motivational, especially when feeling nervous like that and for a young engineer/entrepreneur like me that really wants to bring the power of Bloomer Health Tech to women's heart health.

After this, I realized I was not an outsider, I was too wearing red, I felt these intense emotions because I was in a community that understands heart disease and heart health with the same passion as me. I was just feeling like an outsider, something not that new to me, but definitely this was in a different scenario because I have usually worked with mostly men in an engineering environment and since I was a kid my interests have been very different to what society traditionally states... so realizing that yes, I had different reasons to be there, but equally important helped me take my nervousness away and finally I started to talk and be more like myself. I had a different and not a survival story reason, but my Why is personal too, I think more women should be in technology fields because we can bring perspective to better solutions and I feel the need for more progress in Women's Heart Health too and I want to be part of this positive and needed change that I know I can accomplish with my experience.

Photo: (left to right) Alicia Chong and Anna O'Donnell

Photo: (left to right) Alicia Chong and Anna O'Donnell

It was absolutely great to be part of and going to this event, I was able to talk with the Director, Cheryl Andrews, whom I was very grateful to meet and for being at this great event.  At the end, I left with a delicious CakePop desert and started to plan a new idea, we should definitely invite a group of Women Heart Survivors to MIT soon to show them what we are working on and collaborate further with them (I talked with my team and we are currently planning this now).

After lunch, I went back to the Sloan Bioinnovations Healthcare Conference, just in time for the Panel that Ben Linville-Engler, from our team, organized: Patient Activation through Digital Consumer Health, it brought together leaders in the healthcare industry to explore future prospects and challenges of increasing consumer engagement. I had suddenly gone from learning about the past into thinking about the future, just like that. Digital Health is exciting, personalized health and all the efforts that many of us are working on to make a reality are both difficult to drive towards, but moving forward by leaders like the panelists. At Bloomer Health Tech, we are also part of creating the future, and in order to understand how, when and where, we have to learn what is happening and what people are doing and how they are thinking about this complex new digital health era. Gaining perspective through a panel like this one is truly valuable, and an experience I embrace because of the ecosystem we are grateful to be part of at MIT. 

Photo: (left to right) Ben Linville-Engler, Ashlee Adams, Dr. Rajni Aneja, Lesley Solomon, Sukanya Soderland, Adam Hanina and Jessica Kao

Photo: (left to right) Ben Linville-Engler, Ashlee Adams, Dr. Rajni Aneja, Lesley Solomon, Sukanya Soderland, Adam Hanina and Jessica Kao

After the Panel, I had a quick meeting with a Mentor at the MIT Media Lab's Camera Culture Group, Dr. Pratik Shah about next steps on our MISTI-Peru project about cardiovascular health.

Finally, I went rapidly to the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship to pickup our Bloomer Tech demo booth materials and meet with my teammate Aceil Halaby. We were off to the Wayfair Fashion Show, and event organized to raise awareness and make donations to the American Heart Association at their headquarters at Copley Place Boston. 

Our booth was right in front of the CPR booth from the American Heart Association. It was really interesting to meet with people after their office hours coming to the event. People were there to relax, after office and where highly interested in learning more about our startup.

Photo: Bloomer Tech and AHA booths

Photo: Bloomer Tech and AHA booths

Going to this event was a solid return to the present, seeing interaction and team building activities within a Boston startup that grew so rapidly such as Wayfair. The diversity and questions we got were very refreshing, especially those who were eager to know when they could wear our product. Being under-development is hard because you dream of everything you can do to have impact, but its also a great moment to be meeting people and learning what they think and would like to have too.  

Photo: Aceil Halaby at the Bloomer Tech Demo Booth at Wayfair

Photo: Aceil Halaby at the Bloomer Tech Demo Booth at Wayfair

After a full day of intense networking experiences, so rich in interaction and so different to my day to day activities, I had to stop and feel it. Wonderful feeling to know you are on to something, and even better to start asking yourself, everyday, What is my WHY? My why is to understand the past,what can be significantly improved and what has slowed us down, to live the present to optimize and create tools and technology , to build the future where women live longer, healthier and happier lives.

If I could experience the past, present and future in a single day ... I can just imagine what we can achieve with our mission to End Heart Disease. Passion is WHY.

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