COVID-19 Can’t Stop Us From Changing the World!

This week’s blog was written by Lorelei M-B., Bucktails, Brookies, Gobblers, and Ursids alumni. Lorelei is the Founder/CEO of Heart Hugs, a global organization that provides tangible support and advocacy for congenital heart defect awareness, detection, and treatment. Her work includes several educational publications explaining the Total Artificial Heart, 3-Stage Palliative Reconstruction, and the effects of trauma on patients. She has been instrumental in funding various medical response programs, advocating for transplantation approval for children with intellectual disabilities as well as better cardiac care for Wounded Warriors, providing compression heart pillows to over 36,000 open heart patients around the world, and advocating for informed and culturally responsive health programs to help detect congenital heart defects. She was recognized as the 2016 Military Child of the Year for the Army, a National Prudential Spirit of Community Award Recipient, an Everyday Health Hero by Dr. Mehmet Oz, and is an official Marvel superhero as part of Marvel’s Hero Project, as well as numerous other distinctions. Her Cherokee heritage greatly influences her approaches to Resiliency and Healing as she faces her own complicated diagnosis of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, an incurable severe congenital heart defect. Lorelei’s ability to make extremely complicated diagnoses understandable to the public creates hope and understanding in each community she serves.

This year, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Wildlife Leadership Academy did everything virtually. It might not seem very effective to conduct environmental field schools with students all over the place from their homes. But I see it differently. I was born missing half of my heart and require a lot of medical care. I’ve been having a lot of problems with my heart stopping and my lungs filling with fluid easily. My medical team encourages me to achieve my dreams, but the WLA field schools are very rigorous and the heat of summer affects my health greatly. When the first round of applications happened, I didn’t even apply because I knew it wouldn’t be good for me. Then COVID-19 changed everything.

Having a life-threatening condition means I end up in the hospital a lot and with little warning.

Due to social distancing measures, the Wildlife Leadership Academy field schools transitioned online. Miss Michele and Miss Katie sent out emails accepting new applicants and I applied immediately. For once, I was able to be a part of something I’ve dreamed about since I was little. I was so excited that, finally, after all my wishing, hoping, and wondering… I could! It wasn’t just me, though. Other kids were able to apply who normally wouldn’t, like my friend, Ardianna, who lives in New York. Usually, applicants are only from Pennsylvania, and being able to meet her was one of the highlights of my experience with WLA.

I do things differently because I don’t have as much energy, but I get it done! This was me taking photos from a hammock.

From my perspective, COVID-19 is a reminder that our attitudes and creativity determine how we persevere in tough times. Instead of me feeling sorry for myself because my family needs to cocoon to protect me, which means we cannot go anywhere, I applied to an amazing program and learned more than I could ever imagine. I was offered a place in four field schools to take advantage of the online opportunity and, not only did I learn about awi (deer), ajadi (trout), gvna (turkey), and yona (bear), but I was able to help others understand how important these animals are to my own Cherokee community throughout history and today.

I love teaching others about my Cherokee heritage and my WLA trifold was a perfect chance to do just that!

We used Zoom as the platform for our meetings and classes. In order to do intensive work, we used its breakout room feature to meet for teamwork. Our executive director, Miss Michele Kittell, was afraid that it wouldn’t work and that people would not want to come, but she needn’t have worried. We came together and showed everyone that motivated teens can rise to any occasion and model leadership skills and a commitment to the environment.

I love researching and taking that knowledge and turning it into something that helps others.

I am so proud to be a Wildlife Leadership Academy Ambassador and serve our community through advocacy, education, and outreach!

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.