I am
Aiming high after a stroke
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Aiming high after a stroke

Sami Kennedy-Sim is an Olympic freestyle skier specialising in Ski Cross.

She has represented Australia in two Winter Olympics – Sochi Russia (2014) and PyeongChang Korea (2018). She lives in New South Wales with her husband, Ben Sim, a cross-country skier.  Sami is currently training to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics in China.

In 2018, Sami underwent a procedure to close the hole in her heart.

At 24 years old, Sami Kennedy-Sim was in training for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

As an elite freestyle skier, she’d had plenty of experiences with injuries. So, when she was scheduled for a ‘routine’ knee procedure, she wasn’t fazed. She’d take a bit of time off, recover, and then get right back into her Olympics preparation.  

But a few days after the surgery, her cat, Sochi, jumped onto her knee while she was in bed. Sami jerked in pain and then realised her whole body felt strange. 

"I became paralysed down my left-hand side. I had a facial droop and couldn’t speak."

Her quick-thinking husband realised something was terribly wrong and rushed her to hospital.

There, Sami was diagnosed as having had a stroke.

Working towards recovery

Despite the severity of her diagnosis, Sami was one of the lucky ones.

Because her husband had reacted so quickly – he’d recognised her facial droop as one of the signs of a stroke –  she was able to receive rapid treatment and make a full recovery. 

Nine months later, Sami was competing at the Sochi Olympics.

"I was determined to keep going. My goal to get to the Games kept me going and by getting there it reinforced to me that I was on the right path in my life."

A cause and a cure

But her heart story wasn’t over yet. The following year, she had a transient ischaemic attack, also known as a mini stroke. An echocardiogram revealed a small patent foramen ovale (PFO) – a hole in the heart that may increase the risk of heart events like stroke.

In 2018, after her second Olympics, Sami sought council from a new cardiologist. He cardiologist explained that a device called a PFO occluder could be used to close the hole. The procedure itself would be relatively straightforward, but Sami found herself feeling fearful and overwhelmed.

It was only when decided to put her faith in her remarkable medical team that things started to change for the better.  

I was terrified. I was in tears on the trolley before surgery.

"In that moment, you’re allowed to feel anxious, [but I also felt like] I was in the right hands. Relinquishing control is something I now know is really empowering."

Moving onwards and upwards

Today, Sami lives a normal life. She’s veteran of two Winter Olympics – Sochi and PyeongChang – and is currently training for Beijing in 2022. While she’s still aiming sky high, these days she’s more conscious of her body and what it needs. 

"[I’ve] learnt that there are days when I need to slow down. If I have a period of low sleep and my heart rate changes, I know I have to back off my training a bit."

For someone who survived two heart events, it’s a remarkable recovery. But Sami, who always kept one eye on the future, was determined not to let her experiences define her.

"I’ve always seen this as a speed bump in my life rather than a roadblock. Continually setting goals for myself has been really important in my recovery."

Words of advice

"Empower yourself with knowledge. I strongly encourage people to ask questions of health professionals if they don’t feel right about anything. The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask."

 Sami shares her tips and advice on the Supporting Young Hearts: Heart to heart series podcast and is a member of the Supporting Young Hearts online support group. Visit us here to find out more.


Discover more heart stories

 

 

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Environment, climate change and heart health

Environment, climate change and heart health

Environment, climate change and heart health

Information on how air pollution, heatwaves and bushfires can impact heart health, and what you can do to look after yourself. ...

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Could you be at risk of heart disease? Get your estimated heart age now....

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Understand blood pressure and how it can impact your heart health....

Salmon Shakshuka

Salmon Shakshuka

Salmon Shakshuka

20 minutes
Serves 4

Dinner recipes

Dinner recipes

Dinner recipes

Search our heart healthy dinner recipes for tonights main meal...

Q&A with Professor Kerry-Anne Rye

Q&A with Professor Kerry-Anne Rye

Q&A with Professor Kerry-Anne Rye

A new way to keep people who have had a heart attack healthy...

Automated Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD or AICD)

Automated Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD or AICD)

This is a device inserted into your chest to return abnormal heart rhythms to normal using electrical impulses. ...

Dessert recipes

Dessert recipes

Dessert recipes

Find heart healthy dessert recipes....

Wholegrains and heart health

Wholegrains and heart health

Wholegrains and heart health

All you need to know about wholegrains to put you on the right track...

Heart attack recovery – quit smoking

Heart attack recovery – quit smoking

Heart attack recovery – quit smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Get the facts on quitting and how it can help you recover. ...

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Absolute CVD risk assessment is an integrated approach that estimates the cumulative risk of multiple risk factors to predict a heart attack or stroke event in the next five years....

Remember a loved one with a tribute

Remember a loved one with a tribute

Remember a loved one with a tribute

Honour the life of a loved one with a donation to the Heart Foundation. Your donation offers hope for Australian hearts....

Christmas recipes

Christmas recipes

Christmas recipes

Find heart healthy festive recipes. ...

Lamb recipes

Lamb recipes

Lamb recipes

Find heart healthy lamb recipes....

Relationships and sex after a heart attack

Relationships and sex after a heart attack

Relationships and sex after a heart attack

Explore some useful things to know about intimacy after a heart attack....

Ranch dressing

Ranch dressing

Ranch dressing

Serves Makes 1 cup | Serves 6 (2 tablespoons – 40ml)

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

After having five open heart surgeries between the ages of 13 and 41, Peter knows a thing or two about recovery....

Spinach and ricotta rice flan

Spinach and ricotta rice flan

Spinach and ricotta rice flan

50 minutes
Serves 4

Ranch burger bowls

Ranch burger bowls

Ranch burger bowls

20 minutes
Serves 2

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Feel healthier and happier in six weeks with a free Personal Walking Plan...

Kid-friendly lentil stew

Kid-friendly lentil stew

30 minutes
Serves 4

Heart failure resources for patients

Heart failure resources for patients

Educate your patients on everything they need to know about heart failure and managing their condition ...

Exercises to do at home

Exercises to do at home

Exercises to do at home

All you need to know about keeping active during COVID-19....

Chicken and two-grain stuffed capsicums

Chicken and two-grain stuffed capsicums

Chicken and two-grain stuffed capsicums

10 - 12 minutes
Serves 4

Moroccan vegetarian tray bake

Moroccan vegetarian tray bake

Moroccan vegetarian tray bake

30 minutes
Serves 2

Heart failure clinical resources

Heart failure clinical resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Information for healthcare professionals and the public on cardiovascular disease risk factors and warning signs affecting women. ...

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Keeping your blood cholesterol at a healthy level can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and other serious conditions. ...

How can I eat more fruit and vegetables for a healthy heart?

How can I eat more fruit and vegetables for a healthy heart?

How can I eat more fruit and vegetables for a healthy heart?