Elizabeth Bender believes she can't tell her sister's story often enough. Every time she tells it, she says, she just may be saving someone's life.
Her sister, Kathryn, was 17, a high school actress and dancer waiting to perform with her Naperville North dance troupe when she collapsed backstage and died. Until her death, she, her family and even her doctors had no idea Kathryn had Long QT Syndrome.
If you goWhat: Kathryn Bender 5K Run/Walk
Why: To support the Kathryn Bender Memorial Foundation in purchasing ECG machines that provide heart screenings to young adults through the Young Hearts 4 Life program
When: Check-in and on-site registration begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 24; 5K begins at 9 a.m.
Where: Naperville North High School track, 899 N. Mill St., Naperville
Cost: $25 per person, $75 for families
The heart rhythm disorder can cause rapid and erratic heartbeats that may continue long enough to cause cardiac arrest, as it did for Kathryn. Like many heart conditions, it can be treated once identified.
And that's why Bender tells her sister's story. If she tells the right person and that person is tested, he or she just might find a lurking heart condition in time to get treatment.
Bender spreads the word through the Kathryn Bender Memorial Foundation, launched in 2005 just after Kathryn's death. The organization raises money to buy portable equipment for the Midwest Heart Foundation's Young Hearts for Life program, which visits area high schools to test teens for hidden heart disorders by offering free electrocardiograms.
Since beginning the screenings in 2006, Young Hearts for Life has tested more than 100,000 students. And while most teens show completely normal ECG results, some have been referred to a doctor for further testing. A few ultimately have been diagnosed with life-threatening heart conditions.
To continue its work, the Kathryn Bender Memorial Foundation will sponsor its annual fundraising 5K run/walk on Saturday, Aug. 24, at Naperville North, 899 N. Mill St.
Today Bender, who serves as the foundation's president, tells us more about her sister's story and the work the foundation does in her name.
Q. Who or what inspires you to participate?
A. My name is Elizabeth Bender and I am the president of the Kathryn Bender Memorial Foundation, the nonprofit organization that holds this 5K for sudden death. My sister Kathryn passed away in 2005 at the age of 17 from Long QT Syndrome, which is one type of sudden death.
We started this foundation in 2005 and since then have worked hand-in-hand with Midwest Heart Foundation's Young Hearts for Life program that provides free ECG screenings to high school students all around the area. KBMF purchases portable ECG machines for these tests. YH4L has provided more than 100,000 ECG screenings since 2006.
Q. How have you been affected by sudden death?
A. My whole life has changed from sudden death. In addition to my sister passing away, my father also passed away in 1994 due to cardiac arrest. Needless to say, sudden death hits very close to home. I focus much of my time and energy in preventing others from experiencing similar losses. I know we are making a difference with each screening. About 60 percent of the students at risk for sudden death may be detected with an ECG.
Q. What might surprise people about the experience?
A. What might surprise people the most is how common sudden cardiac death actually is. Sudden death claims the lives of more than 60 young adults every week in the United States. Also, more than 7,000 young people under 18 years of age die from undetected heart conditions each year.
Q. What have you learned about yourself because of the experience?
A. Overall, I have learned the true meaning of "pay it forward." There has been an abundance of positive feedback from the Young Hearts for Life ECG screenings. The Kathryn Bender Memorial Foundation is proud to have such a great program to support. In addition to supporting YH4L, KBMF also provides three annual scholarships and sponsors an annual teddy bear drive for a local children's hospital.
Q. What else can you tell us about the foundation.
A. Since we have started the foundation, I have seen it grow from day one. We started by having family and friends of Kathryn supporting us, to now having the support and recognition of many people and businesses in the community. Seeing the growth of the foundation and the outreach of community involvement makes me realize the significance of my sister's life even after almost eight years since her passing.
Q. Have you ever done this 5K before and, if so, what was the experience like?
A. Anyone who has participated in a 5K, or any length of race, can tell you how exhilarating it is upon completion. It makes it even more amazing if you are walking or running for a cause you care about so passionately. I have run the 5K each year and every time I cross the finish line there is a tear in my eye because not only did I run for a great cause, but I ran to honor my sister and father.
Q. What would you tell someone who is interested in participating but might be the slightest bit hesitant?
A. This is a walk or run, so if you don't consider yourself a runner or even own a pair of gym shoes, that is OK. Flip flops and sandals are welcome. The track is friendly to everyone, whether you run, walk or need to be pushed in a wheelchair or stroller. You can even sit on the sidelines and cheer. Plus, KBMF provides free bagels and fruit after the walk.
Q. How can readers donate to your fundraising efforts?
A. Donations can be made at the walk or mailed directly to us at Kathryn Bender Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 52, Naperville, 60566.